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Firn profile changes in response to extreme 21st-century melting at Devon Ice Cap, Nunavut, Canada

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Estimating regional-scale rates of glacier mass change from repeat airborne and satellite altimetry requires assumptions about the density of the material being added to, or removed from, the glacier surface. This may vary in both space and time, especially in a period of warming climate such as has occurred in Arctic Canada since 2005. Here we compare firn properties measured on 20 shallow cores recovered from elevations of 1400–1900 m a.s.l. on Devon Ice Cap in 2012 with equivalent measurements from 34 cores recovered from the same locations between 2004 and 2011. The average density of the top 2.5 m of the firn column has increased by 13–80%. As a result, measured rates of density increase in the top 1.25 m w. e. of the firn layer have likely thinned this layer at rates of 0.021–0.168 m a–1 over the period 2004–12. These thinning rates are significant relative to local rates of surface height change measured by repeat airborne laser altimetry between 2004 and 2012 (–0.077 to –0.252 m a–1) and indicate that, during periods of climate warming or cooling, firn densification rate changes must be taken into account when estimating mass change rates from measured height changes.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: October 1, 2013

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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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