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Derivation of melt factors from glacier mass-balance records in western Canada

  • Joseph M. Shea (a1), R. Dan Moore (a1) (a2) and Kerstin Stahl (a3)


Melt factors for snow (k s) and ice (k i) were derived from specific mass-balance data and regionally interpolated daily air-temperature series at nine glaciers in the western Cordillera of Canada. Fitted k s and k i were relatively consistent across the region, with mean values (standard deviations) of 3.04 (0.38) and 4.59 (0.59) mm d−1 °C−1, respectively. The interannual variability of melt factors was investigated for two long-term datasets. Calculated annually, snow- and ice-melt factors were relatively stable from year to year; standard deviations for snowmelt factors were 0.48 (17%) and 0.42 (18%) at Peyto and Place Glaciers, respectively, while standard deviations of ice-melt factors were 1.17 (25%) and 0.81 (14%). While fitted values of k s are comparable to those presented in previous observational and modeling studies, fitted k i are substantially and consistently lower across the region. Fitted melt factors were sensitive to the choice of lapse rate used in the air-temperature interpolation. Melt factors fitted to mass-balance data from a single site (Place Glacier) provided reasonable summer balance predictions at most other sites representing both maritime and continental climates, although there was a tendency for under-prediction at several sites. The combination of regionally interpolated air temperatures and a degree-day model appears capable of generating first-order estimates of regional summer balance, which can provide a benchmark against which to judge the predictive ability of more complex (e.g. energy balance) models applied at a regional scale. Mass-balance sensitivity analyses indicate that a temperature increase of 1 K will increase summer ablation in the region by 0.51 m w.e. a−1 on average.

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