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Mass balance of glaciers other than the ice sheets

  • J. Graham Cogley (a1) and W. P. Adams (a1)

Small glaciers appear to have been at equilibrium or shrinking very slightly during 1961–90, according to analysis of an essentially complete set of published measurements. Simple calculations give an average annual mass balance of –195 ± 59 mm a−1 (water equivalent) but this is too low because of systematic errors. Neglect of internal accumulation is responsible for some tens of millimeters of underestimate. Uneven spatial coverage, with fewer measurements where mass balances are less negative, accounts for about 50 mm a−1 of underestimate. This figure derives from spatial interpolation based on global data on ice extent and on an analysis of correlations between balance time series. The correlogram shows exponential decay, the scale length being about 600 km. The largest bias is due to a newly detected dependence of mass balance on glacier size. Among the 231 measured glaciers, many are small and belong to a restricted size range in which balance is negative, but much of the small-glacier extent is accounted for by larger glaciers in a size range where balance is indistinguishable from zero. Correcting for this size bias increases the average balance to –35 ± 89 mm a−1. Inspection of time series for 1940–95 (251 glaciers) shows that mass balance was least negative during the 1960s, and has varied in broad agreement with Northern Hemisphere temperature anomalies; smaller small glaciers (A < 16 km2) appear to be more sensitive than larger small glaciers to changes in thermal forcing. The small-glacier contribution to sea-level rise implied by this assessment is only 0.06–0.32 mm a−1, consistent with glaciers in general making little or no contribution to sea-level change during 1961–90.

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