Glacier Mass Balance

HyMet has taken the proven techniques developed for streamflow forecasting and applied them to a glacier mass-balance model that also uses only low-altitude meteorological observations.

 Using a 38-year period at South Cascade Glacier as a test, the model has proven reliable in a comparison of simulated mass balance with measured mass balance in the field.

 Mass-balance modeling is feasible because the area-altitude distribution of the glacier, which plays a significant role in the mass balance, has by erosional processes, integrated the climate that has formed and nourished the glacier.

Significance of Modeling Glacier Mass Balance

 Glaciers are excellent climate recorders. The advance and retreat of both alpine and continental glaciers for the past 100,000 years or more, have left lasting traces of past climates on the landscape of the earth.

 Deciphering the connection between glacier behavior and the climate requires a comprehensive understanding of how they are related. Several basic scientific disciplines are applied for this purpose, including geology, mathematics, physics, chemistry, meteorology and fluid mechanics.

 Measuring the annual mass balance of a glacier with the usual techniques of ablation stakes and snow pits, requiring on-site field surveys, is arduous and costly – only a few dozen glaciers worldwide are measured each year.

The working environment is often hazardous, cold and/or wet and miserable (for human beings – weather that is healthy for glaciers is usually unpleasant for glaciologists). Therefore, a method to measure mass balance that does not require expensive and hazardous field work was developed and has been successfully applied for glaciers in Washington, Alaska, Nepal, and Norway.

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