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Surface Mass Balance of the Columbia Glacier, Alaska, 1978 and 2010 Balance Years

March 19, 2012

Although Columbia Glacier is one of the largest sources of glacier mass loss in Alaska, surface mass balance measurements are sparse, with only a single data set available from 1978. The dearth of surface mass-balance data prohibits partitioning of the total mass losses between dynamics and surface forcing; however, the accurate inclusion of calving glaciers into predictive models requires both dynamic and climatic forcing of total mass balance. During 2010, the U.S. Geological Survey collected surface balance data at several locations distributed over the surface of Columbia Glacier to estimate the glacier-wide annual balance for balance year 2010 using the 2007 area-altitude distribution. This report also summarizes data collected in 1978, calculates the 1978 annual surface balance, and uses these observations to constrain the 2010 values, particularly the shape of the balance profile. Both years exhibit balances indicative of near-equilibrium surface mass-balance conditions, and demonstrate the importance of dynamic processes during the rapid retreat.

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