Modelling mass balance on former maritime ice caps: a Patagonian example

Nicholas R.J. Hulton, David E. Sugden
1995 Annals of Glaciology  
Understanding the response of present and former ice caps to climatic fluctuations depends on an effective means of modelling mass balance. Ablation can be reasonably well approximated from surface energy-balance calculations, but changes in snowfall, the primary mass-gain mechanism, are poorly understood. This is a particularly important limitation in those mid-latitude areas where the location of precipitation belts changes from glacial to interglacial conditions. This paper develops a method
more » ... of modelling the spatial and temporal variability of snowfall in Patagonia. Snowfall is predicted from a vertically integrated moisture-balance equation representing winter, equinoctial and summer seasons. Inputs to the model are sea-surface temperatures and the geostrophic wind at 700 mbar. The dominant process affecting precipitation is the advection of moisture in an air column whose ability to hold moisture is dependent on temperature and altitude. Relative humidity controls evaporation and precipitation, both of which increase with higher wind speeds. Snowfall is calculated from seasonal precipitation and the annual temperature regime, while ablation is estimated from degree-day calculations. The model successfully simulates present-day precipitation and mass-balance patterns in Patagonia. We also run the model for full-glacial conditions with and without an ice cap, revealing the extreme variability of mass balance at different stages of a glacial cycle and the relative importance of altitude/mass-balance feed-back in ice-cap growth. Since the model is driven by wind and temperature fields it has the potential to use the results of GCMs as input.
doi:10.1017/s0260305500015986 fatcat:a3bhsqk5tnaf7oxdzerheoswqm