On the interactions between airflow and ice melting in ice caves: A novel methodology based on computational fluid dynamics modeling


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Publication Date

January 2019


Motivated by progressive climate-change influence on ice degradation in caves, in this paper we present a novel methodology to investigate the link between air dynamics and ice melting. Specifically, we use surveys available for the Leupa ice cave (LIC), located in the Canin-Kanin group in the southeastern Alps and a general purpose computational fluid dynamics model (CFD). Detailed numerical simulations are evaluated on the basis of well-established approaches that consider domain, grid, boundary-conditions, turbulence closure models, buoyancy effects, porous media properties and verification with measured data. External atmospheric conditions are the main trigger for internal circulation but morphology and thermal characteristics of ice and bedrock induce a dynamical process of heat exchange ultimately responsible for ice melting. This process is generally poorly documented in real conditions. Using CFD analyses we show that both in summer and winter, warm and cold air currents within the cave are “disturbed” by several vortices and stagnation zones which locally modify the energy balance. To account for this we introduce a macroscopic physical model based on energy balance between ice surfaces and the inner ice cave airflow to determine the heat exchanged between ice and air. Using this model, a prediction of ice thickness decay over time is obtained. In the case of LIC a reduction of initial 4 cm per year is first obtained with projection of a much faster increase. The methodology is general and easily extendable to other sites, proving to be a powerful method to estimate ice evolution in caves induced by external and internal forcing.


Ice Cave, CFD Approach, Heat Transfer, Ice Melting, Climate Change




Science of The Total Environment, Vol. 669 (2019).