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In situ quantification of supraglacial cryoconite morphodynamics using time-lapse imaging: an example from Svalbard

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There is growing recognition of the significance of biologically active supraglacial dust (cryoconite) for glacial mass balance and ecology. Nonetheless, the processes controlling the distribution, transport and fate of cryoconite particles in the glacial system remain somewhat poorly understood. Here, using a 216 hour time series of plot-scale (0.04 m2) images, we quantify the small-scale dynamics of cryoconite on Longyearbreen, Svalbard. We show significant fluctuations in the apparent cryoconite area and dispersion of cryoconite over the plot, within the 9 day period of observations. However, the net movement of cryoconite across the ice surface averaged only 5.3 mm d−1. High-resolution measurements of cryoconite granule motion showed constant, random motion but weak correlation with meteorological forcing factors and no directional trends for individual particle movement. The high-resolution time-series data suggest that there is no significant net transport of dispersed cryoconite material across glacier surfaces. The areal coverage and motion of particles within and between cryoconite holes appears to be a product of differential melting leading to changes in plot-scale microtopography, local meltwater flow dynamics and weather-dependent events. These subtle processes of cryoconite redistribution may be significant for supraglacial albedo and have bearing on the surface energy balance at the glacier scale.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2011-09-01

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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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