Energy-balance and melt contributions of supraglacial lakes, Langtang Khola, Nepal

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Evan S Miles1, Ian C Willis1, Francesca Pellicciotti2, Jakob F Steiner2, Pascal Buri2 and Neil S Arnold1, (1)Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, United Kingdom, (2)ETH Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
As Himalayan debris-covered glaciers retreat and thin in response to climate warming, their long, low-gradient tongues generate substantial meltwater which often collects to form surface lakes. Supraglacial lakes on debris covered glaciers present a mechanism of atmosphere-glacier energy transfer that is poorly-studied, and only conceptually included in mass-balance studies. The ponded water can enhance energy transfer as compared to dry debris cover, while also acting as a reservoir of melt-available energy. Supraglacial lakes occur in association with debris-free ice cliffs, another poorly-constrained but critical component of glacier melt. Understanding the role of supraglacial lakes requires precise monitoring of lake volume, estimation of inlet and outlet flows, and consideration of the energy balance across three surfaces: atmosphere-lake, lake-ice, and lake-saturated debris layer.

This research progresses previous modeling work on the energy and mass balance of such supraglacial lakes. Lakes were monitored during the monsoon of 2013 on Lirung Glacier in the Langtang Himal of Nepal with pressure transducers and temperature sensors, while UAV-derived DEMs were used to determine lake geometry. Lake albedo was measured to vary between 0.08 and 0.12, and a nearby on-glacier AWS was used to drive the energy balance. Results indicate that the lakes act as a significant recipient of energy, and suggest that lakes are an important part of an active supraglacial hydrologic system during the monsoon. Melt generated by the lake in contact with bare ice is calculated to be 3-5 cm/day, while energy conducted through saturated lake-bottom debris only resulted in 1-2 mm/day melt. The subaqueous melt rates are of similar magnitude to observed ice-cliff melt rates, allowing lake-cliff systems to persist. Energy leaving the lake system through englacial conduits may be the most important contribution to the glacier’s mass balance, driving surface evolution to form new ice cliffs and depressions by conduit collapse. These results indicate that supraglacial lakes efficiently convey atmospheric energy to the glacier’s interior and rapidly progress the downwasting process.