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Positive mass balance during the late 20th century on Austfonna, Svalbard, revealed using satellite radar interferometry

  • Suzanne Bevan (a1), Adrian Luckman (a1), Tavi Murray (a1), Helena Sykes (a1) and Jack Kohler (a2)...

Abstract

Determining whether increasing temperature or precipitation will dominate the cryospheric response to climate change is key to forecasting future sea-level rise. The volume of ice contained in the ice caps and glaciers of the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard is small compared with that of the Greenland or Antarctic ice sheets, but is likely to be affected much more rapidly in the short term by climate change. This study investigates the mass balance of Austfonna, Svalbard’s largest ice cap. Equilibrium-line fluxes for the whole ice cap, and for individual drainage basins, were estimated by combining surface velocities measured using satellite radar interferometry with ice thicknesses derived from radio-echo sounding. These fluxes were compared with balance fluxes to reveal that during the 1990s the total mass balance of the accumulation zone was (5.6±2.0)×108 m3 a–1. Three basins in the quiescent phase of their surge cycles contributed 75% of this accumulation. The remaining volume may be attributable either to as yet unidentified surge-type glaciers, or to increased precipitation. This result emphasizes the importance of considering the surge dynamics of glaciers when attempting to draw any conclusions on climate change based on snapshot observations of the cryosphere.

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References

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Annals of Glaciology
  • ISSN: 0260-3055
  • EISSN: 1727-5644
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