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Geometry, mass balance and thinning at Eklutna Glacier, Alaska: an altitude-mass-balance feedback with implications for water resources

April 1, 2017

We analyzed glacier surface elevations (1957, 2010 and 2015) and surface mass-balance measurements (2008–2015) on the 30 km2 Eklutna Glacier, in the Chugach Mountains of southcentral Alaska. The geodetic mass balances from 1957 to 2010 and 2010 to 2015 are −0.52 ± 0.46 and −0.74 ± 0.10 m w.e. a−1, respectively. The glaciological mass balance of −0.73 m w.e. a−1 from 2010 to 2015 is indistinguishable from the geodetic value. Even after accounting for loss of firn in the accumulation zone, we found most of the mass loss over both time periods was from a broad, low-slope basin that includes much of the accumulation zone of the main branch. Ice-equivalent surface elevation changes in the basin were −1.0 ± 0.8 m a−1 from 1957 to 2010, and −0.6 ± 0.1 m a−1 from 2010 to 2015, shifting the glacier hypsometry downward and resulting in more negative mass balances: an altitude-mass-balance feedback. Net mass loss from Eklutna Glacier accounts for 7 ± 1% of the average inflow to Eklutna Reservoir, which is entirely used for water and power by Anchorage, Alaska's largest city. If the altitude-mass-balance feedback continues, this ‘deglaciation discharge dividend’ is likely to increase over the short-term before it eventually decreases due to diminishing glacier area.