Articles | Volume 7, issue 3
Research article
27 May 2013
Research article |  | 27 May 2013

Mass balance, runoff and surges of Bering Glacier, Alaska

W. Tangborn

Abstract. The historical net, ablation and accumulation daily balances, as well as runoff of Bering Glacier, Alaska are determined for the 1951–2011 period with the PTAA (precipitation-temperature-area-altitude) model, using daily precipitation and temperature observations collected at the Cordova and Yakutat weather stations, together with the area-altitude distribution of the glacier. The model mean annual balance for this 61 yr period is −0.6 m w.e., the accumulation balance is +1.4 and the ablation balance is −2.0 m w.e. Average annual runoff is 2.5 m w.e. Periodic surges of this glacier transport large volumes of ice to lower elevations where the ablation rate is higher, producing more negative balances and increasing runoff. Runoff from Bering Glacier (derived from simulated ablation and precipitation as rain) is highly correlated with four of the glacier surges that have occurred since 1951. Ice volume loss for the 1972–2003 period measured with the PTAA model is 2.7 km3 w.e. a−1 and closely agrees with losses for the same period measured with the geodetic method. It is proposed that the timing and magnitude of daily snow accumulation and runoff, both of which are controlled by the glacier's area-altitude distribution and are calculated with the PTAA model, can be used to determine the probability that a glacier will surge.