Skip to main content

A distributed energy-balance melt model of an alpine debris-covered glacier

  • Catriona L. Fyffe (a1), Tim D. Reid (a2), Ben W. Brock (a3), Martin P. Kirkbride (a1), Guglielmina Diolaiuti (a4), Claudio Smiraglia (a4) and Fabrizio Diotri (a5)...

Distributed energy-balance melt models have rarely been applied to glaciers with extensive supraglacial debris cover. This paper describes the development of a distributed melt model and its application to the debris-covered Miage glacier, western Italian Alps, over two summer seasons. Sub-debris melt rates are calculated using an existing debris energy-balance model (DEB-Model), and melt rates for clean ice, snow and partially debris-covered ice are calculated using standard energy-balance equations. Simulated sub-debris melt rates compare well to ablation stake observations. Melt rates are highest, and most sensitive to air temperature, on areas of dirty, crevassed ice on the middle glacier. Here melt rates are highly spatially variable because the debris thickness and surface type varies markedly. Melt rates are lowest, and least sensitive to air temperature, beneath the thickest debris on the lower glacier. Debris delays and attenuates the melt signal compared to clean ice, with peak melt occurring later in the day with increasing debris thickness. The continuously debris-covered zone consistently provides 30% of total melt throughout the ablation season, with the proportion increasing during cold weather. Sensitivity experiments show that an increase in debris thickness of 0.035 m would offset 18C of atmospheric warming.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      A distributed energy-balance melt model of an alpine debris-covered glacier
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      A distributed energy-balance melt model of an alpine debris-covered glacier
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      A distributed energy-balance melt model of an alpine debris-covered glacier
      Available formats
Hide All
Andreas, EL (2002) Parameterizing scalar transfer over snow and ice: a review. J. Hydromet., 3(4), 417432 (doi: 10.1175/1525–7541(2002)003<0417:PSTOSA>2.0.CO;2)
Bøggild, CE (2007) Simulation and parameterization of superimposed ice formation. Hydrol. Process., 21(12), 15611566 (doi: 10.1002/hyp.6718)
Bolch, T and 11 others (2012) The state and fate of Himalayan glaciers. Science, 336(6079), 310314 (doi: 10.1126/science. 1215828)
Bown, F, Rivera, A and Acun˜a, C (2008) Recent glacier variations at the Aconcagua basin, central Chilean Andes. Ann. Glaciol., 48, 4348 (doi: 10.3189/172756408784700572)
Bozhinskiy, AN, Krass, MS and Popovnin, VV (1986) Role of debris cover in the thermal physics of glaciers. J. Glaciol., 32(111), 255266
Brock, BW and Arnold, NS (2000) A spreadsheet-based (Microsoft Excel) point surface energy balance model for glacier and snowmelt studies. Earth Surf. Process. Landf., 25(6), 649658 (doi: 10.1002/1096–9837(200006)25:6<649::AID-ESP97>3.0. CO;2-U)
Brock, BW, Willis, IC and Sharp, MJ (2000) Measurement and parameterization of albedo variations at Haut Glacier d’Arolla, Switzerland. J. Glaciol., 46(155), 675688 (doi: 10.3189/172756500781832675)
Brock, BW, Willis, IC and Sharp, MJ (2006) Measurement and parameterization of aerodynamic roughness length variations at Haut Glacier d’Arolla, Switzerland. J. Glaciol., 52(177), 281297 (doi: 10.3189/172756506781828746)
Brock, B, Rivera, A, Casassa, G, Bown, F and Acun˜a, C (2007) The surface energy balance of an active ice-covered volcano: Villarrica Volcano, southern Chile. Ann. Glaciol., 45, 104114 (doi: 10.3189/172756407782282372)
Brock, BW, Mihalcea, C, Kirkbride, MP, Diolaiuti, G, Cutler, MEJ and Smiraglia, C (2010) Meteorology and surface energy fluxes in the 2005–2007 ablation seasons at the Miage debris-covered glacier, Mont Blanc Massif, Italian Alps. J. Geophys. Res., 115(D9), D09106 (doi: 10.1029/2009JD013224)
Casey, KA, Ka¨a¨b, A and Benn, DI (2012) Geochemical characterization of supraglacial debris via in situ and optical remote sensing methods: a case study in Khumbu Himalaya, Nepal. Cryosphere, 6(1), 85100 (doi: 10.5194/tc-6–85–2012)
Collier, E, Mölg, T, Maussion, F, Scherer, D, Mayer, C and Bush, ABG (2013) High-resolution interactive modelling of the mountain glacier–atmosphere interface: an application over the Karakoram. Cryosphere, 7(3), 779795 (doi: 10.5194/tc-7–779–2013)
Deline, P (2009) Interactions between rock avalanches and glaciers in the Mont Blanc massif during the late Holocene. Quat. Sci. Rev., 28(11–12), 10701083 (doi: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2008. 09.025)
Diolaiuti, G, Citterio, M, Carnielli, T, D’Agata, C, Kirkbride, M and Smiraglia, C (2006) Rates, processes and morphology of freshwater calving at Miage Glacier (Italian Alps). Hydrol. Process., 20(10), 22332244 (doi: 10.1002/hyp.6198)
Diolaiuti, G, D’Agata, C, Meazza, A, Zanutta, A and Smiraglia, C (2009) Recent (1975–2003) changes in the Miage debris-covered glacier tongue (Mont Blanc, Italy) from analysis of aerial photos and maps. Geogr. Fís. Din. Quat., 32(1), 117127
Farinotti, D, Usselmann, S, Huss, M, Bauder, A and Funk, M (2012) Runoff evolution in the Swiss Alps: projections for selected high-alpine catchments based on ENSEMBLES scenarios. Hydrol. Process., 26(13), 19091924 (doi: 10.1002/hyp.8276)
Foster, LA, Brock, BW, Cutler, MEJ and Diotri, F (2012) A physically based method for estimating supraglacial debris thickness from thermal band remote-sensing data. J. Glaciol., 58(210), 677691 (doi: 10.3189/2012JoG11J194)
Franzetti, A and 9 others (2013) Bacterial community structure on two alpine debris-covered glaciers and biogeography of Polaromonas phylotypes. ISME J., 7(8), 14831492 (doi: 10.1038/ismej. 2013.48)
Fyffe, CL, Brock, BW, Kirkbride, MP, Mair, DWF and Diotri, F (2012) The hydrology of a debris-covered glacier, the Miage Glacier, Italy. Presented at the British Hydrological Society’s 11th National Symposium: Hydrology for a Changing World, 9–11 July 2012, Dundee, UK
Glazyrin, GE (1975) The formation of ablation moraines as a function of the climatological environment. IAHS Publ. 104 (Symposium at Moscow 1971 – Snow and Ice), 106110
Jansson, P, Hock, R and Schneider, T (2003) The concept of glacier storage: a review. J. Hydrol., 282(1–4), 116129 (doi: 10.1016/S0022–1694(03)00258–0)
Kellerer-Pirklbauer, A, Lieb, GK, Avian, M and Gspurning, J (2008) The response of partially debris-covered valley glaciers to climate change: the example of the Pasterze Glacier (Austria) in the period 1964–2006. Geogr. Ann. A, 90(4), 269285
Kirkbride, MP and Dugmore, AJ (2003) Glaciological response to distal tephra fallout from the 1947 eruption of Hekla, south Iceland. J. Glaciol., 49(166), 420428 (doi: 10.3189/172756503781830575)
Kirkbride, MP and Warren, CR (1999) Tasman Glacier, New Zealand: 20th-century thinning and predicted calving retreat. Global Planet. Change, 22(1–4), 1128
Lambrecht, A and 6 others (2011) A comparison of glacier melt on debris-covered glaciers in the northern and southern Caucasus. Cryosphere, 5(3), 525538 (doi: 10.5194/tc-5–525–2011)
Lejeune, Y, Bertrand J-M, Wagnon, P and Morin, S (2013) A physically based model for the year-round surface energy and mass balance of debris-covered glaciers. J. Glaciol., 59(214), 327344 (doi: 10.3189/2013JoG12J149)
Marsh, T and Dixon, H (2012) The UK water balance – how much has it changed in a warming world? Presented at the British Hydro-logical Society’s 11th National Symposium: Hydrology for a Changing World, 9–11 July 2012, Dundee, UK http://79.170.44. 105/
Marty, Ch, Philipona, R, Fröhlich, C and Ohmura, A (2002) Altitude dependence of surface radiation fluxes and cloud forcing in the Alps: results from the alpine surface radiation budget network. Theor. Appl. Climatol., 72(3–4), 137155 (doi: 10.1007/s007040200019)
Mattson, LE, Gardner, JS and Young, GJ (1993) Ablation on debris covered glaciers: an example from the Rakhiot Glacier, Punjab, Himalaya. IAHS Publ. 218 (Symposium at Kathmandu 1992 – Snow and Glacier Hydrology), 289296
Mayer, C and 6 others (2010) Analysis of glacial meltwater in Bagrot Valley, Karakoram. Mt. Res. Dev., 30(2), 169177 (doi: 10.1659/MRD-JOURNAL-D-09–00043.1)
Mihalcea, C, Mayer, C, Diolaiuti, G, Lambrecht, A, Smiraglia, C and Tartari, G (2006) Ice ablation and meteorological conditions on the debris-covered area of Baltoro glacier, Karakoram, Pakistan. Ann. Glaciol., 43, 292300 (doi: 10.3189/172756406781812104)
Mihalcea, C and 7 others (2008a) Spatial distribution of debris thickness and melting from remote-sensing and meteorological data, at debris-covered Baltoro glacier, Karakoram, Pakistan. Ann. Glaciol., 48, 4957 (doi: 10.3189/172756408784700680)
Mihalcea, C and 7 others (2008b) Using ASTER satellite and ground-based surface temperature measurements to derive supraglacial debris cover and thickness patterns on Miage Glacier (Mont Blanc Massif, Italy). Cold Reg. Sci. Technol., 52(3), 341354 (doi: 10.1016/j.coldregions.2007.03.004)
Mölg, T and Kaser, G (2011) A new approach to resolving climate– cryosphere relations: downscaling climate dynamics to glacier-scale mass and energy balance without statistical scale linking. J. Geophys. Res., 116(D16), D16101 (doi: 10.1029/2011JD015669)
Nakawo, M, Morohoshi, T and Uehara, S (1993) Satellite data utilization for estimating ablation of debris covered glaciers. IAHS Publ. 218 (Symposium at Kathmandu 1992 – Snow and Glacier Hydrology), 7583
Nakawo, M, Yabuki, H and Sakai, A (1999) Characteristics of Khumbu Glacier, Nepal Himalaya: recent changes in the debris-covered area. Ann. Glaciol., 28, 118122 (doi: 10.3189/172756499781821788)
Nicholson, L and Benn, DI (2006) Calculating ice melt beneath a debris layer using meteorological data. J. Glaciol., 52(178), 463470 (doi: 10.3189/172756506781828584)
Nicholson, L and Benn, DI (2012) Properties of natural supraglacial debris in relation to modelling sub-debris ice ablation. Earth Surf. Process. Landf., 38(5), 490501 (doi: 10.1002/esp.3299)
Obleitner, F (2000) The energy budget of snow and ice at Breiðamerkurjökull, Vatnajökull, Iceland. Bound.-Layer Meteorol., 97(3), 385410 (doi: 10.1023/A:1002734303353)
Oerlemans, J (2010) The microclimate of valley glaciers. Igitur, Utrecht University, Utrecht
Oke, TR (1978) Boundary layer climates. Methuen, London
Østrem, G (1959) Ice melting under a thin layer of moraine, and the existence of ice cores in moraine ridges. Geogr. Ann., 41(4), 228230
Reid, TD and Brock, BW (2010) An energy-balance model for debris-covered glaciers including heat conduction through the debris layer. J. Glaciol., 56(199), 903916 (doi: 10.3189/002214310794457218)
Reid, TD and Brock, BW (2014) Assessing ice-cliff backwasting and its contribution to total ablation of the debris-covered Miage glacier, Mont Blanc massif, Italy. J. Glaciol., 60(219), 313 (doi:10.3189/2014JoG13J045)
Reid, TD, Carenzo, M, Pellicciotti, F and Brock, BW (2012) Including debris cover effects in a distributed model of glacier ablation. J. Geophys. Res., 117(D18), D18105 (doi: 10.1029/2012JD017795)
Reijmer, CH and Hock, R (2008) Internal accumulation on Storglacia¨ren, Sweden, in a multi-layer snow model coupled to a distributed energy- and mass-balance model. J. Glaciol., 54(184), 6172 (doi: 10.3189/002214308784409161)
Sakai, A, Fujita, K and Kubota, J (2004) Evaporation and percolation effect on melting at debris-covered Lirung Glacier, Nepal Himalayas, 1996. Bull. Glaciol. Res., 21, 916
Scherler, D, Bookhagen, B and Strecker, MR (2011) Spatially variable response of Himalayan glaciers to climate change affected by debris cover. Nature Geosci., 4(3), 156159 (doi: 10.1038/ngeo1068)
Singh, P, Arora, M and Goel, NK (2006) Effect of climate change on runoff of a glacierized Himalayan basin. Hydrol. Process., 20(9), 19791992 (doi: 10.1002/hyp.5991)
Smiraglia, C, Diolaiuti, G, Casati, D and Kirkbride, MP (2000) Recent areal and altimetric variations of Miage Glacier (Monte Bianco massif, Italian Alps). IAHS Publ. 264 (Symposium at Seattle 2000 – Debris-Covered Glaciers), 227233
Solomon, S and 7 others eds (2007) Climate change 2007: the physical science basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
Stokes, CR, Popovin, V, Aleynikov, A, Gurney, SD and Shahgedanova, M (2007) Recent glacier retreat in the Caucasus Mountains, Russia, and associated increase in supraglacial debris cover and supra-/proglacial lake development. Ann. Glaciol., 46, 195203 (doi: 10.3189/172756407782871468)
Thomson, MH, Kirkbride, MP and Brock, BW (2000) Twentieth century surface elevation change of the Miage Glacier, Italian Alps. IAHS Publ. 264 (Symposium at Seattle 2000 – Debris-Covered Glaciers), 219225
Xu, J and 6 others (2009) The melting Himalayas: cascading effects of climate change on water, biodiversity, and livelihoods. Conserv. Biol., 23(3), 520530 (doi: 10.1111/j.1523–1739. 2009.01237.x)
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Glaciology
  • ISSN: 0022-1430
  • EISSN: 1727-5652
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-glaciology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed