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Surface melt dominates Alaska glacier mass balance

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Full Publication:

Product Type: Journal Article

Year: 2015

Authors: Larsen, C. F., E. W. Burgess, A. A. Arendt, S. R. O'Neel, A. J. Johnson, and C. Kienholz

Suggested Citation:
Larsen, C. F., E. W. Burgess, A. A. Arendt, S. R. O'Neel, A. J. Johnson, and C. Kienholz. 2015. Surface melt dominates Alaska glacier mass balance. Geophysical Research Letters 42. doi:10.1002/2015GL064349


Mountain glaciers comprise a small and widely distributed fraction of the world's terrestrial ice, yet their rapid losses presently drive a large percentage of the cryosphere's contribution to sea level rise. Regional mass balance assessments are challenging over large glacier populations due to remote and rugged geography, variable response of individual glaciers to climate change, and episodic calving losses from tidewater glaciers. In Alaska, we use airborne altimetry from 116 glaciers to estimate a regional mass balance of -75±11 Gt yr-1 (1994–2013). Our glacier sample is spatially well-distributed, yet pervasive variability in mass balances obscures geospatial and climatic relationships. However, for the first time, these data allow the partitioning of regional mass balance by glacier type. We find that tidewater glaciers are losing mass at substantially slower rates than other glaciers in Alaska and collectively contribute to only 6% of the regional mass loss.

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