Code 614.1 Branch Seminar: Dr. Anthony Arendt

Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska
We have used airborne altimetry to measure surface elevations along the central flowline of 86 glaciers in Alaska, Yukon Territory and northwestern British Columbia. Comparison of these elevations with contours on maps derived from 1950s to 1970s aerial photography yields elevation and volume changes over a 30 to 45 year period. Approximately one-third of glaciers have been re-profiled 3 to 5 years after the earlier profile, providing a measure of short-timescale elevation and volume changes for comparison with the earlier period. We have used these measurements to estimate the total contribution of glaciers in northwestern North America to rising sea level, and to quantify the magnitude of climate changes in these regions. We found that glaciers in northwestern North America have contributed to about 10% of the rate of global sea level rise during the last half-century and that the rate of mass loss has approximately doubled during the past decade. During this time, summer and winter air temperatures at low elevation climate stations increased by 0.2+/-0.1 and 0.4+/-0.2 deg. C per decade respectively. There was also a weak trend of increasing precipitation and an overall lengthening of the summer melt season. We modeled regional changes in glacier mass balance with climate station data and were able to reproduce altimetry measurements to within reported errors. We conclude that summer temperature increases have been the main driver of the increased rates of glacier mass loss, but winter warming might also be affecting the glaciers through enhanced melt at low elevations and a change in precipitation from snow to rain, especially in maritime regions.