Modeling of debris-covered glaciers

Developing modeling systems to determine the melt water production of debris-covered glaciers over a range of spatial and temporal scales

Debris covered glacier

As mountain glaciers recede, they are increasingly becoming covered in rock debris, and in some regions 40 - 70% of the ablation zone of the glacier is covered in rock debris. Understanding the impact of this surface debris on glacier melt is essential if we want to calculate the glacier contribution to regional water resources and global sea level rise.

Conventional wisdom is that debris cover thicker than a few centimeters slows down ice melt, and thus ‘protects’ the ice during periods of glacier recession such as the present. Contradictorily, satellite studies of surface lowering rates of glaciers show that the lowering rate of debris-covered glaciers matches, or even exceeds, that of comparable glaciers with no surface debris. 

The premise of this research is that previously unaccounted-for processes associated with the surface properties of the debris-covered area are responsible for the rapid rates of ice loss observed at the glacier scale, and the goal of this research project is to quantify the impact of these processes, and develop numerical models that will allow more accurate prediction of future runoff from debris-covered glaciers.

Project Leader: 
Funding Agencies: 
FWF Elise Richter Award (V 309-N26)
Project Duration: 
09/01/2013 to 08/31/2017