Articles | Volume 7, issue 4
Research article
05 Aug 2013
Research article |  | 05 Aug 2013

Micrometeorological conditions and surface mass and energy fluxes on Lewis Glacier, Mt Kenya, in relation to other tropical glaciers

L. I. Nicholson, R. Prinz, T. Mölg, and G. Kaser

Abstract. The Lewis Glacier on Mt Kenya is one of the best-studied tropical glaciers, but full understanding of the interaction of the glacier mass balance and its climatic drivers has been hampered by a lack of long-term meteorological data. Here we present 2.5 yr of meteorological data collected from the glacier surface from October 2009 to February 2012. The location of measurements is in the upper portion of Lewis Glacier, but this location experiences negative annual mass balance, and the conditions are comparable to those experienced in the lower ablation zones of South American glaciers in the inner tropics. In the context of other glaciated mountains of equatorial East Africa, the summit zone of Mt Kenya shows strong diurnal cycles of convective cloud development as opposed to the Rwenzoris, where cloud cover persists throughout the diurnal cycle, and Kilimanjaro, where clear skies prevail. Surface energy fluxes were calculated for the meteorological station site using a physical mass- and energy-balance model driven by measured meteorological data and additional input parameters that were determined by Monte Carlo optimization. Sublimation rate was lower than those reported on other tropical glaciers, and melt rate was high throughout the year, with the glacier surface reaching the melting point on an almost daily basis. Surface mass balance is influenced by both solid precipitation and air temperature, with radiation providing the greatest net source of energy to the surface. Cloud cover typically reduces the net radiation balance compared to clear-sky conditions, and thus the frequent formation of convective clouds over the summit of Mt Kenya and the associated higher rate of snow accumulation are important in limiting the rate of mass loss from the glacier surface. The analyses shown here form the basis for future glacier-wide mass and energy balance modeling to determine the climate proxy offered by the glaciers of Mt Kenya.