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Estimating equilibrium-line altitude (ELA) from glacier inventory data

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A glacier's most fundamental altitude is the equilibrium-line altitude (ELA) because it divides the glacier into ablation and accumulation areas. The best parameterization of the ELA for glacier inventory is the balanced-budget ELA. We discuss direct estimation of balanced-budget ELA from mass-balance data for individual glaciers, and indirect estimation of balanced-budget ELA from simple topographic parameters available from the World Glacier Inventory (WGI), i.e. the area-median and maximum and minimum altitudes. Mass balance and ELA for individual glaciers are usually strongly correlated and we calculate balanced-budget ELA from the regression equation linking the two. We then compare balanced-budget ELA with area-median and mid-range altitudes for the 94 glaciers for which we have all the necessary data. The different ELA estimates agree well enough (±82 to ±125 m) to describe geographical variations in ELA and for application of glacier–climate models to glacier inventory data. Mid-range and area-median altitudes are already available for tens of thousands of glaciers in the current WGI and should be evaluated in future inventories.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2010-02-01

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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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