Revealing basin and regional scale snow accumulation magnitude and variability on glaciers throughout Alaska
Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Mass loss from Alaskan glaciers (-50 ± 17 Gt/a, 2003-2009) constitutes one of the largest contributions to global sea level rise outside of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. The largest process-related uncertainties in this calculation arise from the difficulty in accurately measuring accumulation on glaciers and from the large variability of accumulation over a range of spatio-temporal scales. Further, the physical processes governing snow distribution in complex terrain elude model parameterization. Using ground-penetrating radar, constrained with probe and pit observations, we quantify the magnitude and variability of snow accumulation at six prominent glaciers throughout Alaska at the end of 2013 winter. We find that total SWE magnitude and variability are strongly controlled by the large-scale climate system (i.e. distance from the coastal moisture source along prevailing storm track). On average, total SWE decreases by 0.33 m per 100 km from the coast, while the SWE elevation gradient decreases by 0.06 m / 100 m per 100 km from the coast. SWE variability over small spatial scales (<200 m) is similar at most sites, although two glaciers exhibit notably low and high variability, likely related to their respective climatic provenance. On individual glaciers, strong elevation gradients, increasing from 0.07 m SWE / 100 m at the interior Gulkana Glacier to 0.30 m SWE / 100 m at the coastal Scott Glacier, exert the primary control on accumulation. Results from multi-variable linear regression models (based on topographic variables) find wind exposure/shelter is the most frequent secondary control on accumulation variability. Finally, we find strong agreement (<10% difference) between the radar derived and stake derived total SWE estimates at two glaciers in the USGS Benchmark Glacier Program.