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Assessing streamflow sensitivity to variations in glacier mass balance

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Full Publication:

Product Type: Journal Article

Year: 2014

Authors: O'Neel, S. R., E. W. Hood, A. A. Arendt, and L. C. Sass

Suggested Citation:
O'Neel, S. R., E. W. Hood, A. A. Arendt, and L. C. Sass. 2014. Assessing streamflow sensitivity to variations in glacier mass balance. Climatic Change 123(2):329-341. doi:10.1007/s10584-013-1042-7


We examine long-term streamflow and mass balance data from two Alaskan glaciers located in climatically distinct basins: Gulkana Glacier, a continental glacier located in the Alaska Range, and Wolverine Glacier, a maritime glacier located in the Kenai Mountains. Over the 1966-2011 study interval, both glaciers lost mass, primarily as a result of summer warming, and streamflow increased in both basins. We estimate total glacier runoff via summer mass balance and quantify the fraction of runoff related to annual mass imbalances. In both climates, annual (net) mass balance contributes, on average, less than 20% of total streamflow, substantially less than the fraction related to summer mass loss (>50%), which occurs even in years of glacier growth. The streamflow fraction related to changes in annual balance increased significantly only in the continental environment. In the maritime climate, where deep winter snowpacks and frequent rain events drive consistently high runoff, the magnitude of this streamflow fraction was small and highly variable, precluding detection of any existing trend. Furthermore, our findings suggest that glacier mass change is likely to impact total basin water yield, timing of runoff and water quality in the continental environment. However, the impacts of maritime glacier change appear more likely to be limited to water quality and runoff timing.

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