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Map-based methods for estimating glacier equilibrium-line altitudes

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We examine the validity of two methods for estimating glacier equilibrium-line altitudes (ELAs) from topographic maps. The ELA determined by contour inflection (the kinematic ELA) and the mean elevation of the glacier correlate extremely well with the ELA determined from mass-balance data (observed ELA). However, the range in glacier elevations above sea level is much larger than the variation in ELA, making this correlation unhelpful. The data were normalized and a reasonable correlation (r2 = 0.59) was found between observed and kinematic ELA. The average of the normalized kinematic ELAs was consistently located down-glacier from the observed ELA, consistent with theory.The normalized mean elevation of the glacier exhibited no correlation and suggests that the toe-headwall altitude ratio is not a good approximation for the ELA. Kinematic waves had no effect on the position of the kinematic ELA. Therefore, topographic maps of glacier surfaces can be used to infer the position of the ELA and provide a method for estimating past ELAs from historic topographic maps.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2003

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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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