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Spatial and temporal variability in the snowpack of a High Arctic ice cap: implications for mass-change measurements

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Abstract:

Interpretation of ice mass elevation changes observed by satellite altimetry demands quantification of the proportion of elevation change which is attributable to variations in firn densification. Detailed stratigraphic logging of snowpack structure and density was carried out at ∼1 km intervals along a 47 km transect on Devon Ice Cap, Canada, in spring (pre-melt) and autumn (during/after melt) 2004 and 2006 to characterize seasonal snowpack variability across the full range of snow facies. Simultaneous meteorological measurements were gathered. Spring (pre-melt) snowpacks show low variability over large spatial scales, with low-magnitude changes in density. The end-of-summer/autumn density profiles show high variability in both 2004 and 2006, with vastly different melt regimes generating dissimilar patterns of ice-layer formation over the two melt seasons. Dye-tracing experiments from spring to autumn 2006 reveal that vertical and horizontal distribution of meltwater flow within and below the annual snowpack is strongly affected by the pre-existing, often subtle stratigraphic interfaces in the snowpack, rather than its bulk properties. Strong interannual variability suggests that using a simple relationship between air temperature, elevation and snowpack densification to derive mass change from measurements of elevation change across High Arctic ice caps may be misguided. Melt timing and duration are important extrinsic factors governing snowpack densification and ice-layer formation in summer, rather than averaged air temperatures.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3189/172756408784700725

Publication date: June 1, 2008

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  • The Annals of Glaciology is a peer-reviewed, thematic journal published 2 to 4 times a year by the International Glaciological Society (IGS). Publication frequency is determined and volume/issue numbers assigned by the IGS Council on a year-to-year basis and with a lead time of 3 to 4 years. The Annals of Glaciology is included in the ISI Science Citation Index from volume 50, number 50 onwards.

    Themes can be on any aspect of the study of snow and ice. Individual members can make a suggestion for a theme for an Annals issue to the Secretary General, who will forward it to the IGS Publications Committee. The IGS Publication Committee will make a recommendation for an individual themed Annals issue, together with a potential Annals Chief Editor for that issue, to IGS Council. The IGS Council will make the decision whether to proceed, taking into account the spread of topics and the overall capacity for publication of pages in Annals.

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