Skip to main content

Mass balance in the Glacier Bay area of Alaska, USA, and British Columbia, Canada, 1995–2011, using airborne laser altimetry

  • Austin J. Johnson (a1), Christopher F. Larsen (a1), Nathaniel Murphy (a1), Anthony A. Arendt (a1) and S. Lee Zirnheld (a1)...

The Glacier Bay region of southeast Alaska, USA, and British Columbia, Canada, has undergone major glacier retreat since the Little Ice Age (LIA). We used airborne laser altimetry elevation data acquired between 1995 and 2011 to estimate the mass loss of the Glacier Bay region over four time periods (1995–2000, 2000–05, 2005–09, 2009–11). For each glacier, we extrapolated from center-line profiles to the entire glacier to estimate glacier-wide mass balance, and then averaged these results over the entire region using three difference methods (normalized elevation, area-weighted method and simple average). We found that there was large interannual variability of the mass loss since 1995 compared with the long-term (post-LIA) average. For the full period (1995–2011) the average mass loss was 3.93 ± 0.89 Gt a−1 (0.6 ± 0.1 m w.e. a−1), compared with 17.8 Gt a−1 for the post-LIA (1770–1948) rate. Our mass loss rate is consistent with GRACE gravity signal changes for the 2003–10 period. Our results also show that there is a lower bias due to center-line profiling than was previously found by a digital elevation model difference method.

  • 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.

      Mass balance in the Glacier Bay area of Alaska, USA, and British Columbia, Canada, 1995–2011, using airborne laser altimetry
      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.

      Mass balance in the Glacier Bay area of Alaska, USA, and British Columbia, Canada, 1995–2011, using airborne laser altimetry
      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.

      Mass balance in the Glacier Bay area of Alaska, USA, and British Columbia, Canada, 1995–2011, using airborne laser altimetry
      Available formats
Hide All
Arendt AA, Echelmeyer KA, Harrison WD, Lingle CS and Valentine VB (2002) Rapid wastage of Alaska glaciers and their contribution to rising sea level. Science, 297(5580), 382386 (doi: 10.1126/science.1072497)
Arendt A and 7 others (2006) Updated estimates of glacier volume changes in the western Chugach Mountains, Alaska, and a comparison of regional extrapolation methods. J. Geophys. Res., 111(F3), F03019 (doi: 10.1029/2005JF000436)
Arendt AA, Luthcke SB, Larsen CF, Abdalati W, Krabill WB and Beedle MJ (2008) Validation of high-resolution GRACE mascon estimates of glacier mass changes in the St Elias Mountains, Alaska, USA, using aircraft laser altimetry. J. Glaciol., 54(188), 778787 (doi: 10.3189/002214308787780067)
Arendt AA, Luthcke SB, O’Neel S, Gardner AS and Hill DF (2011) Analysis of seasonal variability in Gulf of Alaska glacier mass balance using GRACE. [Abstr. C34A-02] Am. Geophys. Union, Fall Meeting
Arendt A, Larsen C, Loso M, Murphy N, and Rich J (2012) Alaskan National Park glaciers: status and trends. First Progress Report (Natural Resources Data Series NPS/AKR/NRDS – 2012/403) National Park Service, Fort Collins, CO
Bader H (1954) Sorge’s Law of densification of snow on high polar glaciers. J. Glaciol., 2(15), 319323
Berthier E, Schiefer E, Clarke GKC, Menounos B and Rémy F (2010) Contribution of Alaskan glaciers to sea-level rise derived from satellite imagery. Nature Geosci., 3(2), 9295 (doi: 10.1038/ngeo737)
Chen G (1999) GPS kinematic positioning for the airborne laser altimetry at Long Valley, California. (PhD thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Cogley JG (2009) Geodetic and direct mass-balance measurements: comparison and joint analysis. Ann. Glaciol., 50(50), 96100 (doi: 10.3189/172756409787769744)
Connor C, Streveler G, Post A, Monteith D and Howell W (2009) The Neoglacial landscape and human history of Glacier Bay, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, southeast Alaska, USA. Holocene, 19(3), 381393 (doi: 10.1177/0959683608101389)
Echelmeyer KA and 8 others (1996) Airborne surface profiling of glaciers: a case-study in Alaska. J. Glaciol., 42(142), 538547
Elsberg DH, Harrison WD, Echelmeyer KA and Krimmel RM (2001) Quantifying the effects of climate and surface change on glacier mass balance. J. Glaciol., 47(159), 649658 (doi: 10.3189/172756501781831783)
Gardner A, Moholdt G, Arendt A and Wouters B (2012) Accelerated contributions of Canada’s Baffin and Bylot Island glaciers to sea level rise over the past half century. Cryosphere, 6(5), 11031125 (doi: 10.5194/tc-6-1103-2012)
Heinrichs TA, Mayo LR, Echelmeyer KA and Harrison WD (1996) Quiescent-phase evolution of a surge-type glacier: Black Rapids Glacier, Alaska, USA. J. Glaciol. , 42(140), 110122
Hodge SM, Trabant DC, Krimmel RM, Heinrichs TA, March RS and Josberger EG (1998) Climate variations and changes in mass of three glaciers in western North America. J. Climate, 11(9), 21612179 (doi: 10.1175/1520-0442(1998)011<2161:CVACIM>2.0.CO;2)
Jacob T, Wahr J, Pfeffer WT and Swenson S (2012) Recent contributions of glaciers and ice caps to sea level rise. Nature, 482(7386), 514518 (doi: 10.1038/nature10847)
Johnson A (2012) Estimating the mass balance of glaciers in the Glacier Bay area of Alaska, USA and British Columbia, Canada. (MSc thesis, University of Alaska, Fairbanks)
King MA (2009) The GPS contribution to the error budget of surface elevations derived from airborne LIDAR. IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Sens., 47(3), 874883 (doi: 10.1109/TGRS.2008.2005730)
Larsen CF, Motyka RJ, Freymueller JT, Echelmeyer KA and Ivins ER (2005) Rapid viscoelastic uplift in southeast Alaska caused by post-Little Ice Age glacial retreats. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 237(3–4), 548560 (doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2005.06.032)
Larsen CF, Motyka RJ, Arendt AA, Echelmeyer KA and Geissler PE (2007) Glacier changes in southeast Alaska and northwest British Columbia and contribution to sea level rise. J. Geophys. Res., 112(F1), F01007 (doi: 10.1029/2006JF000586)
Leonard KC and Fountain AG (2003) Map-based methods for estimating glacier equilibrium-line altitudes. J. Glaciol., 49(166), 329336
Luthcke SB, Arendt AA, Rowlands DD, McCarthy JJ and Larsen CF (2008) Recent glacier mass changes in the Gulf of Alaska region from GRACE mascon solutions. J. Glaciol., 54(188), 767777 (doi: 10.3189/002214308787779933)
Luthcke SB, Sabaka TJ, Loomis BD, Arendt A, McCarthy JJ and Camp J (in press) Antarctica, Greenland and Gulf of Alaska land ice evolution from an iterated GRACE global mascon solution. J. Glaciol., 59(216)
Meier MF and Post A (1987) Fast tidewater glaciers. J. Geophys. Res., 92(B9), 90519058 (doi: 10.1029/JB092iB09p09051)
Meier MF and 7 others (2007) Glaciers dominate eustatic sea-level rise in the 21st century. Science, 317(5841), 10641067 (doi: 10.112 6/science.1143 906)
Meierding TC (1982) Late Pleistocene glacial equilibrium-line altitudes in the Colorado Front Range: a comparison of methods. Quat. Res., 18(3), 289310
Miller MM and Pelto MS (1999) Mass balance measurements on the Lemon Creek Glacier, Juneau Icefield, Alaska 1953–1998. Geogr. Ann. A, 81(4), 671681
Molnia BF (2008) Glaciers of North America: glaciers of Alaska. In Williams RS Jr and Ferrigno JG eds. Satellite image atlas of glaciers of the world. (USGS Professional Paper 1386-K) United States Geological Survey, Denver, CO
Motyka RJ, Larsen CF, Freymueller JT and Echelmeyer KA (2007) Post Little Ice Age glacial rebound in Glacier Bay National Park and surrounding areas. Alaska Park Sci., 6(1), 3641
Muskett RR, Lingle CS, Sauber JM, Rabus BT and Tangborn WV (2008) Acceleration of surface lowering on the tidewater glaciers of Icy Bay, Alaska, USA from InSAR DEMs and ICESat altimetry. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 265(3–4), 345359 (doi: 10.1016/j.eps l.2007.10.012 )
Nesbitt SW and Anders AM (2009) Very high resolution precipitation climatologies from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission precipitation radar. Geophys. Res. Lett., 36(15), L15815 (doi: 10.1029/2009GL038026)
Nolan M, Arendt A, Rabus Band Hinzman L (2005) Volume change of McCall Glacier, Arctic Alaska, USA, 1956–2003. Ann. Glaciol., 42, 409416 (doi: 10.3189/172756405781812943)
Oerlemans J and 10 others (1998) Modelling the response of glaciers to climate warming. Climate Dyn., 14(4), 267274 (doi: 10.1007/s003820050222)
Pelto MS and Miller MM (1990) Mass balance of the Taku Glacier, Alaska from 1946 to 1986. Northwest Sci., 64(3), 121130
Pritchard HD, Luthcke SB and Fleming AH (2010) Understanding ice-sheet mass balance: progress in satellite altimetry and gravimetry. J. Glaciol., 56(200), 11511161 (doi: 10.3189/002214311796406194)
Raup B, Racoviteanu A, Khalsa SJS, Helm C, Armstrong R and Arnaud Y (2007) The GLIMS geospatial glacier database: a new tool for studying glacier change. Global Planet. Change, 56(1–2), 101110 (doi: 10.1016/j.gloplacha.2006.07.018)
Sasgen I, Klemann V and Martinec Z (2012) Towards the inversion of GRACE gravity fields for present-day ice-mass changes and glacial-isostatic adjustment in North America and Greenland. J. Geodyn., 59–60, 4963 (doi: 10.1016/j.jog.2012.03.004)
Schwitter MP and Raymond CF (1993) Changes in the longitudinal profiles of glaciers during advance and retreat. J. Glaciol., 39(133), 582590
Truffer M, Harrison WD and March RS (2005) Correspondence. Record negative glacier balances and low velocities during the 2004 heatwave in Alaska, USA: implications forthe interpretation of observations by Zwally and others in Greenland. J. Glaciol., 51(175), 663664 (doi: 10.3189/172756505781829016)
Trüssel BL, Motyka RJ, Truffer M and Larsen CF (2013) Rapid thinning of lake-calving Yakutat Glacier and the collapse of the Yakutat Icefield, southeast Alaska, USA. J. Glaciol., 59(213), 149161 (doi: 10.3189/2013JoG12J081)
Van Beusekom AE, O’Neel SR, March RS, Sass LC and Cox LH (2010) Re-analysis of Alaskan benchmark glacier mass-balance data using the index method. USGS Sci. Invest. Rep. 2010-5247. US Geological Survey, Reston, VA
Walter F, O’Neel S, McNamara DE, Pfeffer T, Bassis J and Fricker HA (2010) Iceberg calving during transition from grounded to floating ice: Columbia Glacier, Alaska. Geophys. Res. Lett., 37(15), L15501 (doi: 10.1029/2010GL043201)
Wu XM and 8 others (2010) Simultaneous estimation of global present-day water transport and glacial isostatic adjustment. Nature Geosci., 3(9), 642646 (doi: 10.1038/ngeo938)
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: 14
Total number of PDF views: 43 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 60 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 10th July 2017 - 26th February 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.