21 Apr 2021
21 Apr 2021
Status: a revised version of this preprint was accepted for the journal TC.

Mass balance modelling and climate sensitivity of Saskatchewan Glacier, western Canada

Christophe Kinnard1, Olivier Larouche1, Michael N. Demuth2, and Brian Menounos3 Christophe Kinnard et al.
  • 1Département des Sciences de l’environnement, Université du Québec à Trois Rivières, Trois-Rivières, G87R7, Canada
  • 2Geological Survey of Canada; currently, University of Saskatchewan Cold Water Laboratory, Canmore, T1W 3G1, Canada
  • 3Natural Resources and Environmental Studies Institute and Geography, University of Northern British Columbia, Prince George, British Columbia, Canada

Abstract. Glacier mass balance models are needed at sites with scarce long-term observations to reconstruct past glacier mass balance and assess its sensitivity to future climate change. In this study North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR) data are used to force a physically-based, distributed glacier mass balance model of Saskatchewan Glacier for the historical period 1979–2016 and assess it sensitivity to climate change. A two-year record (2014–2016) from an on-glacier automatic weather station (AWS) and a homogenized historical precipitation record from nearby permanent weather stations were used to downscale air temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, incoming solar radiation and precipitation from the nearest NARR gridpoint to the glacier AWS site. The model was run with fixed (1979, 2010) and time-varying (dynamic) geometry using a multi-temporal digital elevation model (DEM) dataset. The model showed a good performance against recent (2012–2016) direct glaciological mass balance observations as well as with cumulative geodetic mass balance estimates. The simulated mass balance showed a large sensitivity to the biases in NARR precipitation and solar radiation, as well as to the prescribed precipitation lapse rate and ice aerodynamic roughness lengths, showing the importance of constraining these parameters with ancillary data. The difference between the static (1979) and dynamic simulations showed small differences (mean = 0.06 m w.e. a−1 or 1.5 m w.e. over 37 yrs), indicating minor effects of elevation changes on the glacier specific mass balance. The static mass balance sensitivity to climate was assessed for prescribed changes in regional mean air temperature between 0 to 7 °C and precipitation between −20 to +20 %, which comprise the spread of ensemble IPCC representative concentration pathways climate scenarios for the mid (2041–2070) and late (2071–2100) 21st century. The climate sensitivity experiments showed that future changes in precipitation would have a small impact on glacier mass-balance, while the temperature sensitivity increases with warming, from −0.65 to −0.93 m w.e. °C−1. Increased melting accounted for 90 % of the temperature sensitivity while precipitation phase feedbacks accounted for only 10 %. Roughly half of the melt response to warming was driven by a positive albedo feedback, in which glacier albedo decreases as the snow cover on the glacier thins and recedes earlier in response to warming, increasing net solar radiation fluxes. About one quarter of the melt response to warming was driven by latent heat energy gains (positive humidity feedback). Our study underlines the key role of albedo and air humidity in modulating the response of winter-accumulation type mountain glaciers and upland icefield-outlet glacier settings to climate.

Christophe Kinnard et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on tc-2021-109', Anonymous Referee #1, 28 May 2021
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Christophe Kinnard, 09 Jun 2021
  • RC2: 'Comment on tc-2021-109', Anonymous Referee #2, 13 Jul 2021

Christophe Kinnard et al.

Christophe Kinnard et al.


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Short summary
This study implements a physically based, distributed glacier mass balance model in a context of sparse direct observations. Carefully constraining model parameters with ancillary data allowed to accurately reconstructing the mass balance of Saskatchewan Glacier over a 37-year period. We show that the mass balance sensitivity to warming is dominated by increased melting and that changes in glacier albedo and air humidity are the leading causes of increased glacier melt under warming scenarios.