Articles | Volume 2, issue 2
13 Nov 2008
 | 13 Nov 2008

The equilibrium flow and mass balance of the Taku Glacier, Alaska 1950–2006

M. S. Pelto, M. M. Miller, G. W. Adema, M. J. Beedle, S. R. McGee, K. F. Sprenke, and M. Lang

Abstract. The Taku Glacier, Alaska has advanced 7.5 km since the late nineteenth century, while all other primary outlet glaciers of the Juneau Icefield are in retreat. The Juneau Icefield Research Program has completed field work on the Taku Glacier annually since 1946. The collected observations of surface mass balance, glacier velocity and glacier thickness at Profile IV 29 km above the terminus and 4 km above the equilibrium line provide a means to assess the equilibrium nature of the Taku Glacier. Annual velocity measured and summer velocity measurements completed at a Profile IV from 1950–2006 indicate insignificant variations in velocity seasonally or from year to year. The consistency of velocity over the 56-year period indicates that in the vicinity of the equilibrium line, the flow of the Taku Glacier has been in an equilibrium state.

Surface mass balance was positive from 1946–1988 averaging +0.42 m a−1. This led to glacier thickening. From 1988–2006 an important change has occurred and annual balance has been −0.14 m a−1, and the glacier thickness has ceased increasing along Profile IV.

Field measurements of ice depth and surface velocity allow calculation of the volume flux at Profile IV. Volume flux is then compared with the surface balance flux from the region of the glacier above Profile IV, determined annually in the field. Above Profile IV the observed mean surface flux from 1950–2006 is 5.50×108 m3 a−1 (±5%), while the calculated volume flux range for the same period flowing through profile IV is 5.00–5.47×108 m3 a−1. The mean surface flux has been greater than the volume flux, which has led to slow thickening of the Taku Glacier up to 1988. The thickening has not led to a change in the flow of Taku Glacier at Profile IV.