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Analysis of Winter and Summer Glacier Mass Balances

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Seasonal mass balance components bw (winter balance) and bs (summer balance) as well as ct (total accumulation) and at (total ablation), can be used directly to infer climate variables. In contrast, ac (net balance of the accumulation area) and aa (net balance of the ablation area), and ba or bn (annual or net balance) can not. The traditional Alpine system of observations of ac and aa , however, can be converted to true seasonal values bw and bs if both pairs of components are simultaneously observed for some years, because a correlation between the two pairs of components exists.

We analyzed bw and bs data and their mean, standard deviations and ratios of these to the corresponding net or annual balances for 50 glaciers with relatively long records representing different regions in the northern hemisphere.

We also investigated correlations between seasonal components. A negative correlation between bw and bs exists at many glaciers. About two-thirds of the glaciers show insignificant correlations (−0.3 < r < 0.3), implying independence of summer and winter balances. In a few unusual cases the correlations are positive. These different correlations, or lack thereof, may offer insight into feedback conditions that must exist in this climate-related system. The correspondence of the bw and ct , and bs and at , appears to depend largely on the relative amounts of summer snowfall, a function of their climatic environment expressed as [α = (bw+bs)/2]. The contribution of variability of bs to the net balance increases markedly with decreasing values of α.

The variability of bw and bs , and therefore the net balance, has been increasing with time; whether this is due to an increase in climate variability or to other causes is not clear. It appears that bw has been increasing with time at the highest altitudes, but bs has been increasing more rapidly especially at low altitudes; the many-glacier average net balance is becoming more negative.
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Keywords: Abramov Glacier; Mass balance; White Glacier; accuracy; sample size; statistical modelling

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR), University of Colorado at Boulder, Colorado, USA

Publication date: 1999-12-01

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