Skip to main content Accessibility help

Elevation change, mass balance, dynamics and surging of Langjökull, Iceland from 1997 to 2007

  • ALLEN POPE (a1) (a2) (a3), IAN C. WILLIS (a1), FINNUR PÁLSSON (a4), NEIL S. ARNOLD (a1), W. GARETH REES (a1), HELGI BJÖRNSSON (a4) and LAUREN GREY (a1)...


Glaciers and ice caps around the world are changing quickly, with surge-type behaviour superimposed upon climatic forcing. Here, we study Iceland's second largest ice cap, Langjökull, which has both surge- and non-surge-type outlets. By differencing elevation change with surface mass balance, we estimate the contribution of ice dynamics to elevation change. We use DEMs, in situ stake measurements, regional reanalyses and a mass-balance model to calculate the vertical ice velocity. Thus, we not only compare the geodetic, modelled and glaciological mass balances, but also map spatial variations in glacier dynamics. Maps of emergence and submergence velocity successfully highlight the 1998 surge and subsequent quiescence of one of Langjökull's outlets by visualizing both source and sink areas. In addition to observing the extent of traditional surge behaviour (i.e. mass transfer from the accumulation area to the ablation area followed by recharge of the source area), we see peripheral areas where the surge impinged upon an adjacent ridge and subsequently retreated. While mass balances are largely in good agreement, discrepancies between modelled and geodetic mass balance may be explained by inaccurate estimates of precipitation, saturated adiabatic lapse rate or degree-day factors. Nevertheless, the study was ultimately able to investigate dynamic surge behaviour in the absence of in situ measurements during the surge.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Elevation change, mass balance, dynamics and surging of Langjökull, Iceland from 1997 to 2007
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Elevation change, mass balance, dynamics and surging of Langjökull, Iceland from 1997 to 2007
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Elevation change, mass balance, dynamics and surging of Langjökull, Iceland from 1997 to 2007
      Available formats


This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

Correspondence: Allen Pope <>


Hide All
Aðalgeirsdóttir, G, Jóhannesson, T, Pálsson, F, Björnsson, H and Sigurðsson, O (2006) Response of Hofsjökull and southern Vatnajökull, Iceland, to climate change. J. Geophys. Res., 111, F03001 (doi: 10.1029/2005JF000388)
Andreassen, LM (1999) Comparing traditional mass balance measurements with long-term volume change extracted from topographical maps: a case study of Storbreen glacier in Jotunheimen, Norway, for the period 1940–1997. Geogr. Ann. Ser. A Phys. Geogr., 81(4), 467476 (doi: 10.1111/1468-0459.00076)
Árnadóttir, Þ and 6 others (2009) Glacial rebound and plate spreading: results from the first countrywide GPS observations in Iceland. Geophys. J. Int., 177(2), 691716 (doi: 10.1111/j.1365-246X.2008.04059.x)
Baraer, M and 8 others (2011) Glacier recession and water resources in Peru's Cordillera Blanca. J. Glaciol., 58(207), 134150 (doi: 10.3189/2012JoG11J186)
Barrand, NE, James, TD and Murray, T (2010) Spatio-temporal variability in elevation changes of two high-Arctic valley glaciers. J. Glaciol., 56(199) (doi: 10.3189/002214310794457362)
Barry, RG (2011) The cryosphere – past, present, and future: a review of the frozen water resources of the world. Polar Geogr., 34(4), 219227 (doi: 10.1080/1088937X.2011.638146)
Bennett, MR, Huddart, D and McCormick, T (2000) An integrated approach to the study of glaciolacustrine landforms and sediments: a case study from Hagavatn, Iceland. Quart. Sci. Rev., 19(7), 633665 (doi: 10.1016/S0277-3791(99)00013-X)
Bennett, MR, Huddart, D and Waller, RI (2005) The interaction of a surging glacier with a seasonally frozen foreland: Hagafellsjokull-Eystri, Iceland. Geol. Soc. Spl. Pub., 242, 5162 (doi: 10.1144/GSL.SP.2005.242.01.05)
Berthier, E and 10 others (2014) Glacier topography and elevation changes derived from Pléiades sub-meter stereo images. Cryosphere, 8(6), 22752291 (doi: 10.5194/tc-8-2275-2014)
Björnsson, H and Pálsson, F (2008) Icelandic glaciers. Jökull, 58, 365386
Björnsson, H, Pálsson, F and Haraldsson, HH (2002) Mass balance of Vatnajökull (1991–2001) and Langjökull (1996–2001), Iceland. Jökull, 51, 7578
Björnsson, H, Pálsson, F, Sigurðsson, O and Flowers, GE (2003) Surges of glaciers in Iceland. Ann. Glaciol., 36, 8290 (doi: 10.3189/172756403781816365)
Bolch, T and 11 others (2012) The state and fate of Himalayan glaciers. Science, 336(6079), 310314 (doi: 10.1126/science.1215828)
Chen, JL, Wilson, CR and Tapley, BD (2013) Contribution of ice sheet and mountain glacier melt to recent sea level rise. Nat. Geosci., 6(7), 549552 (doi: 10.1038/ngeo1829)
Cogley, JG (2009) Geodetic and direct mass-balance measurements: comparison and joint analysis. Ann. Glaciol., 50, 96100 (doi: 10.3189/172756409787769744)
Cogley, JG and 10 others (2011) Glossary of glacier mass balance. UNESCO-IHP, Paris
Compton, K, Bennett, RA and Hreinsdóttir, S (2015) Climate driven vertical acceleration of Icelandic crust measured by CGPS geodesy. Geophys. Res. Lett., 42, 743750 (doi: 10.1002/2014GL062446)
Crochet, P and Jóhannesson, T (2011) A data set of gridded daily temperature in Iceland, 1949–2010. Jökull, 61, 117
Crochet, P and 6 others (2007) Estimating the spatial distribution of precipitation in Iceland using a linear model of orographic precipitation. J. Hydrometeorol., 8(6), 12851306 (doi: 10.1175/2007JHM795.1)
Cuffey, KM and Patterson, WSB (2010) The physics of glaciers, 4th edn. Academic Press, London
Dahlke, HE, Lyon, SW, Stedinger, JR, Rosqvist, G and Jansson, P (2012) Contrasting trends in floods for two sub-arctic catchments in northern Sweden – does glacier presence matter? Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 16(7), 21232141 (doi: 10.5194/hess-16-2123-2012)
De Woul, M and 5 others (2006) Firn layer impact on glacial runoff: a case study at Hofsjökull, Iceland. Hydrol. Process., 20, 21712185 (doi: 10.1002/hyp.6201)
Eyre, NS, Payne, AJ, Baldwin, DJ and Björnsson, H (2005) The use of salt injection and conductivity monitoring to infer near-margin hydrological conditions on Vestari-Hagafellsjokull, Iceland. Ann. Glaciol., 40, 8388 (doi: 10.3189/172756405781813410)
Fischer, A (2011) Comparison of direct and geodetic mass balances on a multi-annual time scale. Cryosphere, 5(1), 107124 (doi: 10.5194/tc-5-107-2011)
Flowers, GE, Björnsson, H, Geirsdóttir, Á, Miller, GH and Clarke, GKC (2007) Glacier fluctuation and inferred climatology of Langjökull ice cap through the Little Ice Age. Quart. Sci. Rev., 26(19–21), 23372353 (doi: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2007.07.016)
Geirsson, H and 15 others (2010) Overview of results from continuous GPS observations in Iceland from 1995 to 2010. Jökull 60, 322
Geist, T, Elvehøy, H, Jackson, M and Stötter, J (2005) Investigations on intra-annual elevation changes using multi-temporal airborne laser scanning data: case study Engabreen, Norway. Ann. Glaciol., 42, 195201 (doi: 10.3189/172756405781812592)
Grant, KL, Stokes, CR and Evans, IS (2009) Identification and characteristics of surge-type glaciers on Novaya Zemlya, Russian Arctic. J. Glaciol., 55(194), 960972 (doi: 10.3189/002214309790794940)
Guðmundsson, S, Björnsson, H, Pálsson, F and Haraldsson, HH (2003) Physical energy balance and degree-day models on summer ablation on Langjökull ice cap, SW-Iceland.
Guðmundsson, S, Björnsson, H, Pálsson, F and Haraldsson, HH (2009) Comparison of energy balance and degree-day models of summer ablation on the Langjökull ice cap, SW-Iceland. Jökull, 59, 118
Hagen, JO, Eiken, T, Kohler, J and Melvold, K (2005) Geometry changes on Svalbard glaciers: mass-balance or dynamic response? Ann. Glaciol., 42, 255261 (doi: 10.3189/172756405781812763)
Hock, R (2005) Glacier melt: a review of processes and their modelling. Prog. Phys. Geogr., 29(3), 362391 (doi: 10.1191/0309133305pp453ra)
Hodgkins, R, Carr, S, Pálsson, F, Guðmundsson, S and Björnsson, H (2012) Sensitivity analysis of temperature-index melt simulations to near-surface lapse rates and degree-day factors at Vestari-Hagafellsjökull, Langjökull, Iceland. Hydrol. Process., 26(24), 37363748 (doi: 10.1002/hyp.8458)
Hodgkins, R, Carr, S, Pálsson, F, Guðmundsson, S and Björnsson, H (2013) Modelling variable glacier lapse rates using ERA-Interim reanalysis climatology: an evaluation at Vestari- Hagafellsjökull, Langjökull, Iceland. Int. J. Climatol., 33(2), 410421 (doi: 10.1002/joc.3440)
Hopkinson, C and Demuth, M (2006) Using airborne lidar to assess the influence of glacier downwasting on water resources in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Can. J. Remote Sens., 32(2), 212222 (doi: 10.5589/m06-012)
Hubbard, A and 6 others (2000) Glacier mass-balance determination by remote sensing and high-resolution modelling. J. Glaciol., 46(154), 491498 (doi: 10.3189/172756500781833016)
Huss, M (2013) Density assumptions for converting geodetic glacier volume change to mass change. Cryosphere, 7(3), 877887 (doi: 10.5194/tc-7-877-2013)
IPCC (2013) Summary for policymakers. In Stocker, TF and 9 others eds. Climate change 2013: the physical science basis. contribution of working group I to the fifth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK
Jacobsen, D, Milner, AM, Brown, LE and Dangles, O (2012) Biodiversity under threat in glacier-fed river systems. Nat. Clim. Change, 2(5), 361364 (doi: 10.1038/nclimate1435)
Jiskoot, H, Murray, T and Boyle, PJ (2000) Controls on the distribution of surge-type glaciers in Svalbard. J. Glaciol., 46(154), 412422
Jóhannesson, T, Sigurdsson, O, Laumann, T and Kennett, M (1995) Degree-day glacier mass-balance modelling with applications to glaciers in Iceland, Norway and Greenland. J. Glaciol., 41(138), 345359
Jóhannesson, T and 7 others (2013) Ice-volume changes, bias estimation of mass-balance measurements and changes in subglacial lakes derived by lidar mapping of the surface of Icelandic glaciers. Ann. Glaciol., 54(63), 6374 (doi: 10.3189/2013AoG63A422)
Kohler, J and 7 others (2007) Acceleration in thinning rate on western Svalbard glaciers. Geophys. Res. Lett., 34, L18502 (doi: 10.1029/2007GL030681)
Larsen, DJ, Miller, GH and Geirsdóttir, Á (2013) An Annually Resolved Little Ice Age Record of Surge Periodicity, Iceberg Calving, and Dynamic Terminus Fluctuations of Langjökull, Central Iceland. Abstracts with Programs. Geological Society of America, Denver, Colorado, 261
Li, J and Zwally, HJ (2011) Modeling of firn compaction for estimating ice-sheet mass change from observed ice-sheet elevation change. Ann. Glaciol., 52(59), 17 (doi: 10.3189/172756411799096321)
Mansell, D, Luckman, A and Murray, T (2012) Dynamics of tidewater surge-type glaciers in northwest Svalbard. J. Glaciol., 58(207), 110118 (doi: 10.3189/2012JoG11J058)
Marzeion, B, Jarosch, AH and Hofer, M (2012) Past and future sea-level change from the surface mass balance of glaciers. Cryosphere, 6(6), 12951322 (doi: 10.5194/tc-6-1295-2012)
Matthews, T, Hodgkins, R, Guðmundsson, S, Pálsson, F and Björnsson, H (2015) Inter-decadal variability in potential glacier surface melt energy at Vestari Hagafellsjökull (Langjökull, Iceland) and the role of synoptic circulation. Int. J. Climatol., 35, 30413057 (doi: 10.1002/joc.4191)
Maurer, EP, Hidalgo, HG, Das, T, Dettinger, MD and Cayan, DR (2010) The utility of daily large-scale climate data in the assessment of climate change impacts on daily streamflow in California. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 14, 11251138 (doi: 10.5194/hess-14-1125-2010)
McMillan, M and 14 others (2014) Rapid dynamic activation of a marine-based Arctic ice cap. Geophys. Res. Lett., 41(24), 2014GL062255 (doi: 10.1002/2014GL062255)
Minchew, B, Simons, M, Hensley, S, Björnsson, H and Pálsson, F (2015) Early melt season velocity fields of Langjökull and Hofsjökull, central Iceland. J. Glaciol., 61(226), 253266 (doi: 10.3189/2015JoG14J023)
Nuth, C, Schuler, TV, Kohler, J, Altena, B and Hagen, JO (2012) Estimating the long-term calving flux of Kronebreen, Svalbard, from geodetic elevation changes and mass-balance modelling. J. Glaciol., 58(207), 119133 (doi: 10.3189/2012JoG11J036)
Oerlemans, J (1994) Quantifying global warming from the retreat of glaciers. Science, 264(5156), 243245 (doi: 10.1126/science.264.5156.243)
Palmer, S, Shepherd, A, Björnsson, H and Pálsson, F (2009) Ice velocity measurements of Langjokull, Iceland, from interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR). J. Glaciol., 193(55), 834838 (doi: 10.3189/002214309790152573)
Pálsson, F and 6 others (2012) Mass and volume changes of Langjökull ice cap, Iceland, 1890 to 2009, deduced from old maps, satellite images and in situ mass balance measurements. Jökull, 62, 8195
Panofsky, HA and Brier, GW (1968) Some application of statistics to meteorology. Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, PA
Paul, F (2015) Revealing glacier flow and surge dynamics from animated satellite image sequences: examples from the Karakoram. Cryosphere Discuss., 9(2), 25972623 (doi: 10.5194/tcd-9-2597-2015)
Pope, A, Willis, IC, Rees, WG, Arnold, NS and Pálsson, F (2013) Combining airborne lidar and Landsat ETM+ data with photoclinometry to produce a digital elevation model for Langjökull, Iceland. Int. J. Remote Sens., 34(4), 10051025 (doi: 10.1080/01431161.2012.705446)
Pritchard, HD, Murray, T and Luckman, A (2005) Glacier surge dynamics of Sortebrae, east Greenland, from synthetic aperture radar feature tracking. J. Geophys. Res., 110(F3), F03005 (doi: 10.1029/2004JF000233)
Pritchard, HD, Arthern, RJ, Vaughan, DG and Edwards, LA (2009) Extensive dynamic thinning on the margins of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Nature, 461(7266), 971975 (doi: 10.1038/nature08471)
Radić, V and Hock, R (2011) Regionally differentiated contribution of mountain glaciers and ice caps to future sea-level rise. Nat. Geosci., 4(2), 9194 (doi: 10.1038/ngeo1052)
Rees, WG and Arnold, NS (2007) Mass balance and dynamics of a valley glacier measured by high-resolution LiDAR. Polar Rec., 43(04), 311319 (doi: 10.1017/S0032247407006419)
Rolstad, C, Haug, T and Denby, D (2009) Spatially integrated geodetic glacier mass balance and its uncertainty based on geostatistical analysis: application to the western Svartisen ice cap, Norway. J. Glaciol., 55(192), 666680 (doi: 10.3189/002214309789470950)
Rye, CJ, Arnold, NS, Willis, IC and Kohler, J (2010) Modeling the surface mass balance of a high Arctic glacier using the ERA-40 reanalysis. J. Geophys. Res., 115(F2), F02014 (doi: 10.1029/2009JF001364)
Sevestre, H and Benn, DI (2015) Climatic and geometric controls on the global distribution of surge-type glaciers: implications for a unifying model of surging. J. Glaciol., 61(228), 646662 (doi: 10.3189/2015JoG14J136)
Sigurðsson, O (1998) Glacier variations in Iceland 1930–1995. Jökull, 45, 325
Tennant, C, Menounos, B, Ainslie, B, Shea, J and Jackson, P (2012) Comparison of modeled and geodetically-derived glacier mass balance for Tiedemann and Klinaklini glaciers, southern Coast Mountains, British Columbia, Canada. Global Planet. Change, 82–83, 7485 (doi: 10.1016/j.gloplacha.2011.11.004)
Vimeux, F and 6 others (2009) Climate variability during the last 1000 years inferred from Andean ice cores: a review of methodology and recent results. Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol., 281(3–4), 229241 (doi: 10.1016/j.palaeo.2008.03.054)
Wang, P, Li, Z, Li, H, Wang, W and Yao, H (2014) Comparison of glaciological and geodetic mass balance at Urumqi Glacier No. 1, Tian Shan, Central Asia. Global Planet. Change, 114, 1422 (doi: 10.1016/j.gloplacha.2014.01.001)
Zemp, M and 16 others (2013) Reanalysing glacier mass balance measurement series. Cryosphere, 7(4), 12271245 (doi: 10.5194/tc-7-1227-2013)
Zwally, HJ and 7 others (2005) Mass changes of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and shelves and contributions to sea-level rise: 19922002. J. Glaciol., 51, 509527 (doi: 10.3189/172756505781829007)


Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Elevation change, mass balance, dynamics and surging of Langjökull, Iceland from 1997 to 2007

  • ALLEN POPE (a1) (a2) (a3), IAN C. WILLIS (a1), FINNUR PÁLSSON (a4), NEIL S. ARNOLD (a1), W. GARETH REES (a1), HELGI BJÖRNSSON (a4) and LAUREN GREY (a1)...


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.