Glacier volume response time and its links to climate and topography based on a conceptual model of glacier hypsometry
Abstract. Glacier volume response time is a measure of the time taken for a glacier to adjust its geometry to a climate change. It has been previously proposed that the volume response time is given approximately by the ratio of glacier thickness to ablation at the glacier terminus. We propose a new conceptual model of glacier hypsometry (area-altitude relation) and derive the volume response time where climatic and topographic parameters are separated. The former is expressed by mass balance gradients which we derive from glacier-climate modelling and the latter are quantified with data from the World Glacier Inventory. Aside from the well-known scaling relation between glacier volume and area, we establish a new scaling relation between glacier altitude range and area, and evaluate it for seven regions. The presence of this scaling parameter in our response time formula accounts for the mass balance elevation feedback and leads to longer response times than given by the simple ratio of glacier thickness to ablation at the terminus. Volume response times range from decades to thousands of years for glaciers in maritime (wet-warm) and continental (dry-cold) climates respectively. The combined effect of volume-area and altitude-area scaling relations is such that volume response time can increase with glacier area (Axel Heiberg Island and Svalbard), hardly change (Northern Scandinavia, Southern Norway and the Alps) or even get smaller (The Caucasus and New Zealand).