25 May 2020

25 May 2020

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Meltwater Storage in the firn of Kaskawulsh Glacier, Yukon Territory, Canada

Naomi E. Ochwat1, Shawn J. Marshall1,2, Brian J. Moorman1, Alison S. Criscitiello3, and Luke Copland4 Naomi E. Ochwat et al.
  • 1Department of Geography, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, T2N 1N4, Canada
  • 2Environment and Climate Change Canada, Gatineau, Quebec, K1A 0H3, Canada
  • 3Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, T6G 2R3, Canada
  • 4Department of Geography, Environment and Geomatics, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario K1N 6N5, Canada

Abstract. In recent years, the analysis of firn in Greenland, Svalbard, and other high Arctic regions has contributed to the understanding of meltwater retention in firn and its importance to measurements of glacier mass balance. This has provided insight into firn densification processes and meltwater retention. Changes in these attributes can also provide insight into meteorological variability and climate trends. In spring 2018, two firn cores (21 m and 36 m in length) were extracted from the accumulation zone of Kaskawulsh Glacier, St. Elias Mountains, Yukon. The cores were analyzed for ice layer stratigraphy, density, and glaciochemical time series (oxygen isotopes and major ions). Meltwater percolation and refreezing events were evident in the cores. The quantity of ice layers, the presence of liquid water at 34.5 m depth, interpreted as a perennial firn aquifer (PFA), and the altered isotopic and glaciochemical signature all indicate this process. This melt resulted in an estimated surface lowering of 10 ± 0.8 cm/yr between 2005 and 2018. The information gleaned from Kaskawulsh Glacier supports the need for improved and field-validated density assumptions for geodetic mass balance methods.

Naomi E. Ochwat et al.

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Naomi E. Ochwat et al.

Naomi E. Ochwat et al.


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Short summary
In May 2018 we drilled into Kaskawulsh Glacier to study how it is being affected by climate warming. We found that the accumulation zone is melting and that melt water is percolating through the firn, refreezing as ice layers or staying unfrozen forming a firn aquifer. This is important because it affects estimates of glacier change made from remote-sensing techniques. Our research helps inform the calculation of mass balance and illustrates the impact of climate change on northern glaciers.