A simple approach to glacier dynamics is explored in which there is postulated to be a relationship between area and volume with three parameters: the time for area to respond to changes in volume, a thickness scale, and an area characterizing the condition of the initial state.This approach gives a good fit to the measurements of cumulative balance and area on South Cascade Glacier from 1970–97; the area time-scale is roughly 8 years, the thickness scale about 123 m, and the 1970 area roughly 4% larger than required for adjustment with volume. Combining this relationship with a version of mass continuity expressed in terms of area and volume produces a theory of glacier area and volume response to climate in which another time constant, the volume time-scale, appears. Area and volume both respond like a damped spring and mass system. The damping of the South Cascade response is approximately critical, and the volume time-scale is roughly 48 years, six times the area time-scale. The critically damped spring and mass analogy reproduces the time dependence predicted by the more complicated traditional theory of Nye.
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