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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


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