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

Influence of high-order mechanics on simulation of glacier response to climate change: insights from Haig Glacier, Canadian Rocky Mountains

S. Adhikari and S. J. Marshall

Abstract. Evolution of glaciers in response to climate change has mostly been simulated using simplified dynamical models. Because these models do not account for the influence of high-order physics, corresponding results may exhibit some biases. For Haig Glacier in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, we test this hypothesis by comparing simulation results obtained from 3-D numerical models that deal with different assumptions concerning physics, ranging from simple shear deformation to comprehensive Stokes flow. In glacier retreat scenarios, we find a minimal role of high-order mechanics in glacier evolution, as geometric effects at our site (the presence of an overdeepened bed) result in limited horizontal movement of ice (flow speed on the order of a few meters per year). Consequently, high-order and reduced models all predict that Haig Glacier ceases to exist by ca. 2080 under ongoing climate warming. The influence of high-order mechanics is evident, however, in glacier advance scenarios, where ice speeds are greater and ice dynamical effects become more important. Although similar studies on other glaciers are essential to generalize such findings, we advise that high-order mechanics are important and therefore should be considered while modeling the evolution of active glaciers. Reduced model predictions may be adequate for other glaciologic and topographic settings, particularly where flow speeds are low and where mass balance changes dominate over ice dynamics in determining glacier geometry.