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Methodological approaches to infer end-of-winter snow distribution on alpine glaciers

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Snow accumulation is an important component of the mass balance of alpine glaciers. To improve our understanding of the processes related to accumulation and their representation in state-of-the-art mass-balance models, extensive field measurements are required. We present measurements of snow accumulation distribution on Findelengletscher, Switzerland, for April 2010 using (1) in situ snow probings, (2) airborne ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and (3) differencing of two airborne light detection and ranging (lidar) digital elevation models (DEMs). Calculating high-resolution snow depth from DEM-differencing requires careful correction for vertical ice-flow velocity and densification in the accumulation area. All three methods reveal a general increase in snow depth with elevation, but also a significant small-scale spatial variability. Lidar-differencing and in situ snow probings show good agreement for the mean specific winter balance (0.72 and 0.78 m w.e., respectively). The lidar-derived distributed snow depth reveals significant zonal correlations with elevation, slope and curvature in a multiple linear regression model. Unlike lidar-differencing, GPR-derived snow depth is not affected by glacier dynamics or firn compaction, but to a smaller degree by snow density and liquid water content. It is thus a valuable independent data source for validation. The simultaneous availability of the three datasets facilitates the comparison of the methods and contributes to a better understanding of processes that govern winter accumulation distribution on alpine glaciers.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 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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