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A macroscopic approach to glacier dynamics

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A simple approach to glacier dynamics is explored in which there is postulated to be a relationship between area and volume with three parameters: the time for area to respond to changes in volume, a thickness scale, and an area characterizing the condition of the initial state.This approach gives a good fit to the measurements of cumulative balance and area on South Cascade Glacier from 1970-97; the area time-scale is roughly 8 years, the thickness scale about 123 m, and the 1970 area roughly 4% larger than required for adjustment with volume. Combining this relationship with a version of mass continuity expressed in terms of area and volume produces a theory of glacier area and volume response to climate in which another time constant, the volume time-scale, appears. Area and volume both respond like a damped spring and mass system. The damping of the South Cascade response is approximately critical, and the volume time-scale is roughly 48 years, six times the area time-scale. The critically damped spring and mass analogy reproduces the time dependence predicted by the more complicated traditional theory of Nye.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2003-01-01

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  • The Journal of Glaciology is published six times per year. It accepts submissions from any discipline related to the study of snow and ice. All articles are peer reviewed. The Journal is included in the ISI Science Citation Index.

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