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A method to estimate the ice volume and ice-thickness distribution of alpine glaciers

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Sound knowledge of the ice volume and ice-thickness distribution of a glacier is essential for many glaciological applications. However, direct measurements of ice thickness are laborious, not feasible everywhere and necessarily restricted to a small number of glaciers. In this paper, we present a method to estimate the ice-thickness distribution and the total ice volume of alpine glaciers. This method is based on glacier mass turnover and principles of ice-flow mechanics. The required input data are the glacier surface topography, the glacier outline and a set of borders delineating different 'ice-flow catchments'. Three parameters describe the distribution of the 'apparent mass balance', which is defined as the difference between the glacier surface mass balance and the rate of ice-thickness change, and two parameters define the ice-flow dynamics. The method was developed and validated on four alpine glaciers located in Switzerland, for which the bedrock topography is partially known from radio-echo soundings. The ice thickness along 82 cross-profiles can be reproduced with an average deviation of about 25% between the calculated and the measured ice thickness. The cross-sectional areas differ by less than 20% on average. This shows the potential of the method for estimating the ice-thickness distribution of alpine glaciers without the use of direct measurements.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2009

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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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