Articles | Volume 7, issue 5
Research article
25 Sep 2013
Research article |  | 25 Sep 2013

Meteorological drivers of ablation processes on a cold glacier in the semi-arid Andes of Chile

S. MacDonell, C. Kinnard, T. Mölg, L. Nicholson, and J. Abermann

Abstract. Meteorological and surface change measurements collected during a 2.5 yr period are used to calculate surface mass and energy balances at 5324 m a.s.l. on Guanaco Glacier, a cold-based glacier in the semi-arid Andes of Chile. Meteorological conditions are marked by extremely low vapour pressures (annual mean of 1.1 hPa), strong winds (annual mean of 10 m s−1), shortwave radiation receipt persistently close to the theoretical site maximum during cloud-free days (mean annual 295 W m−2; summer hourly maximum 1354 W m−2) and low precipitation rates (mean annual 45 mm w.e.). Snowfall occurs sporadically throughout the year and is related to frontal events in the winter and convective storms during the summer months. Net shortwave radiation provides the greatest source of energy to the glacier surface, and net longwave radiation dominates energy losses. The turbulent latent heat flux is always negative, which means that the surface is always losing mass via sublimation, which is the main form of ablation at the site. Sublimation rates are most strongly correlated with net shortwave radiation, incoming shortwave radiation, albedo and vapour pressure. Low glacier surface temperatures restrict melting for much of the period, however episodic melting occurs during the austral summer, when warm, humid, calm and high pressure conditions restrict sublimation and make more energy available for melting. Low accumulation (131 mm w.e. over the period) and relatively high ablation (1435 mm w.e.) means that mass change over the period was negative (−1304 mm w.e.), which continued the negative trend recorded in the region over the last few decades.