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How many stakes are required to measure the mass balance of a glacier?

December 31, 1998

Glacier mass balance is estimated for South Cascade Glacier and Maclure Glacier using a one-dimensional regression of mass balance with altitude as an alternative to the traditional approach of contouring mass balance values. One attractive feature of regression is that it can be applied to sparse data sets where contouring is not possible and can provide an objective error of the resulting estimate. Regression methods yielded mass balance values equivalent to contouring methods. The effect of the number of mass balance measurements on the final value for the glacier showed that sample sizes as small as five stakes provided reasonable estimates, although the error estimates were greater than for larger sample sizes. Different spatial patterns of measurement locations showed no appreciable influence on the final value as long as different surface altitudes were intermittently sampled over the altitude range of the glacier. Two different regression equations were examined, a quadratic, and a piecewise linear spline, and comparison of results showed little sensitivity to the type of equation. These results point to the dominant effect of the gradient of mass balance with altitude of alpine glaciers compared to transverse variations. The number of mass balance measurements required to determine the glacier balance appears to be scale invariant for small glaciers and five to ten stakes are sufficient.

  • USGS Source: Publications Warehouse (indexId: 70021550)