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Climate sensitivity of a high-precipitation glacier in New Zealand

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The sensitivity of glaciers to climatic change is key information in assessing the response and sea-level implications of projected future warming. New Zealand glaciers are important globally as an example of how maritime glaciers will contribute to sea-level rise. A spatially distributed energy-balance model is applied to Brewster Glacier, New Zealand, in order to calculate glacier mass balance, run-off and sensitivity to climate change. The model successfully simulates four annual mass-balance cycles. Close to half (52%) of the energy available for melt on the glacier is supplied by turbulent heat fluxes, with radiation less important, except during the winter. Model sensitivity to temperature change is one of the largest reported on Earth, at –2.0 m w.e. a–1 °C–1. In contrast, a 50% change in precipitation is required to offset the mass-balance change resulting from a 1°C temperature change. Meltwater run-off sensitivity is also very high, increasing 60% with a 1°C warming. The extreme sensitivity of mass balance to temperature change suggests that significant ice loss will occur with even moderate climate warming.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2010-04-01

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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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