Quantifying the effects of climate and surface change on glacier mass balance

  • Elsberg D
  • Harrison W
  • Echelmeyer K
 et al. 
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When a mass balance is computed using an outdated map,. that computation does not reveal the actual mass change. But older maps often must be used for practical reasons. We present a method by which, with a few additional measurements each year, a mass balance computed with an outdated map can be transformed into an actual mass change. This is done by taking into account the influence of changes in areal extent and changes in the surface elevation of the glacier since the map was made. This method is applied to South Cascade Glacier, Washington, U.S.A., as an example. The computed cumulative mass balance from 1970 to 1997 would have been 16% too negative if the 1970 map had not been updated. While the actual volume change of a glacier is relevant to hydrological studies, the change that would have occurred on a constant or static) surface is more relevant to certain glacier dynamics problems and most climate problems. We term this the reference-surface balance and propose that such a balance, which deliberately omits the influence of changes in area and surface elevation, is better correlated to climatic variations than the conventional one, which incorporates those influences.

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  • D. H. Elsberg

  • W. D. Harrison

  • K. A. Echelmeyer

  • R. M. Krimmel

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