Articles | Volume 12, issue 2
Research article
28 Feb 2018
Research article |  | 28 Feb 2018

Spatiotemporal variability of Canadian High Arctic glacier surface albedo from MODIS data, 2001–2016

Colleen A. Mortimer and Martin Sharp

Abstract. Inter-annual variations and longer-term trends in the annual mass balance of glaciers in Canada's Queen Elizabeth Islands (QEI) are largely attributable to changes in summer melt. The largest source of melt energy in the QEI in summer is net shortwave radiation, which is modulated by changes in glacier surface albedo. We used measurements from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensors to investigate large-scale spatial patterns, temporal trends, and variability in the summer surface albedo of QEI glaciers from 2001 to 2016. Mean summer black-sky shortwave broadband albedo (BSA) decreased at a rate of 0.029±0.025 decade−1 over that period. Larger reductions in BSA occurred in July (−0.050±0.031 decade−1). No change in BSA was observed in either June or August. Most of the decrease in BSA, which was greatest at lower elevations around the margins of the ice masses, occurred between 2007 and 2012, when mean summer BSA was anomalously low. The first principal component of the 16-year record of mean summer BSA was well correlated with the mean summer North Atlantic Oscillation index, except in 2006, 2010, and 2016, when the mean summer BSA appears to have been dominated by the August BSA. During the period 2001–2016, the mean summer land surface temperature (LST) over the QEI glaciers and ice caps increased by 0.049±0.038 °C yr−1, and the BSA record was negatively correlated (r: −0.86) with the LST record, indicative of a positive ice-albedo feedback that would increase rates of mass loss from the QEI glaciers.

Short summary
MODIS C6 data are used to present the first complete picture of summer surface albedo variations for all glaciated surfaces of the Queen Elizabeth Islands, Canada (2001–2016). The 16-year history of mean summer albedo change is strongly tied to variations in the summer NAO index, except in 2006, 2010, and 2016, when changes in the mean summer BSA appear to be dominated by effects of the mean August albedo. Observed mean summer and July albedo declines may accelerate rates of QEI mass loss.