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Glacier-Wide Mass Balance and Compiled Data Inputs: USGS Benchmark Glaciers

February 14, 2022

Since the late 1950s, the USGS has maintained a long-term glacier mass-balance program at three North American glaciers. Measurements began on South Cascade Glacier, WA in 1958, expanding to Gulkana and Wolverine glaciers, AK in 1966, and later Sperry Glacier, MT in 2005. Additional measurements have been made on Lemon Creek Glacier, AK to compliment data collected by the Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP; Pelto and others, 2013). Direct field measurements are combined with weather data and imagery analyses to estimate the seasonal and annual mass balance at each glacier in both a conventional and reference surface format (Cogley and others, 2011). The analysis framework (O'Neel, 2019; van Beusekom and others, 2010) is identical at each glacier to enable cross-comparison between output time series. Vocabulary used follows Cogley and others (2011) Glossary of Glacier Mass Balance.

This portion of the data release includes glacier wide mass balance solutions for all glaciers in the USGS Benchmark Glacier Program, as well as the refined inputs used to in these calculations. Input data are of three types: 1) time-variable area altitude distribution (AAD); 2) time series of point water balance at long term sites (with secondary sites given in recent years); 3) weather data from nearby stations, either installed along the glacier margins or taken from a nearby site if continuous glacier-adjacent data is unavailable. The USGS runs a coded analysis to transform the three input data types to the output glacier-wide data. Output data represent surface mass balance estimates. The output solution is a geodetically calibrated, conventional glacier-wide mass balance, which represents our preferred solution. Conventional glacier-wide mass balance from direct observations without calibration can be easily derived by using the geodetic calibration coefficients in this document, if desired. We do not explicitly account for basal or englacial accumulation or ablation. Mass balances are reported in water equivalent (w.e.) units, and often represent integration of multiple field measurements. Whenever possible, we average multiple field measurements to account for surface roughness and measurement errors. These raw point measurements and other mass-balance related data are included in the larger USGS Benchmark Glacier Mass Balance and Project Data release, available at