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The challenge of monitoring glaciers with extreme altitudinal range: mass-balance reconstruction for Kahiltna Glacier, Alaska

  • JOANNA C. YOUNG (a1), ANTHONY ARENDT (a1) (a2), REGINE HOCK (a1) (a3) and ERIN PETTIT (a4)


Glaciers spanning large altitudinal ranges often experience different climatic regimes with elevation, creating challenges in acquiring mass-balance and climate observations that represent the entire glacier. We use mixed methods to reconstruct the 1991–2014 mass balance of the Kahiltna Glacier in Alaska, a large (503 km2) glacier with one of the greatest elevation ranges globally (264–6108 m a.s.l.). We calibrate an enhanced temperature index model to glacier-wide mass balances from repeat laser altimetry and point observations, finding a mean net mass-balance rate of −0.74 mw.e. a−1( ± σ = 0.04, std dev. of the best-performing model simulations). Results are validated against mass changes from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites, a novel approach at the individual glacier scale. Correlation is strong between the detrended model- and GRACE-derived mass change time series (R 2 = 0.58 and p ≪ 0.001), and between summer (R 2 = 0.69 and p = 0.003) and annual (R 2 = 0.63 and p = 0.006) balances, lending greater confidence to our modeling results. We find poor correlation, however, between modeled glacier-wide balances and recent single-stake monitoring. Finally, we make recommendations for monitoring glaciers with extreme altitudinal ranges, including characterizing precipitation via snow radar profiling.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

Correspondence: Joanna C. Young <>


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