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Global variations of local asymmetry in glacier altitude: separation of north–south and east–west components

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North–south and east–west differences in firn-line altitude, equilibrium-line altitude or middle altitudes of glaciers can be separated by regression on the cosine and sine of glacier aspect (accumulation area azimuth). Allowing for regional trends in altitude, the north–south differences expected from radiation and shade effects can be reliably quantified from World Glacier Inventory (WGI) data. The north–south differences are greater in sunnier climates, mid-latitudes and steeper relief. Local altitude differences between north- and south-facing glaciers are commonly 70–320 m. Such asymmetry is near-universal, although weak in the Arctic and tropics. East–west contrasts are less, and found mainly in the tropics and areas most exposed to strong winds. Altitude, latitude, glacier gradient and height range, calculable from most of the WGI data, are potential controls on the degree of north–south contrast, as well as surrogates for climatic controls (temperature, precipitation, radiation and cloudiness). An asymmetric sine–cosine power model is developed to describe the variation of north–south contrast with latitude. Multiple regression over 51 regions shows altitude and latitude to be the strongest controls of this contrast. Aspect–altitude analysis for former glaciers provides new evidence of cloudiness.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2005

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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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