26 Apr 2022
26 Apr 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Sub-seasonal variability of supraglacial ice cliff melt rates and associated processes from time-lapse photogrammetry

Marin Kneib1,2, Evan S. Miles1, Pascal Buri1, Stefan Fugger1,2, Michael McCarthy1, Thomas E. Shaw1, Zhao Chuanxi3, Martin Truffer4, Matthew J. Westoby5, Wei Yang3, and Francesca Pellicciotti1,5 Marin Kneib et al.
  • 1High Mountain Glaciers and Hydrology Group, Swiss Federal Institute, WSL, Birmensdorf, 8903, Switzerland
  • 2Institute of Environmental Engineering, ETH Zürich, Zürich, 8092, Switzerland
  • 3Key Laboratory of Tibetan Environment Changes and Land Surface Processes, Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 100045, China
  • 4Geophysical Institute and Department of Physics, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK 99775, USA
  • 5Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8ST, UK

Abstract. Melt from supraglacial ice cliffs is an important contributor to the mass loss of debris-covered glaciers. However, ice cliff contribution is difficult to quantify as they are highly dynamic features, and the paucity of observations of melt rates and their variability leads to large modeling uncertainties. We quantify monsoon season melt and 3D evolution of four ice cliffs over two debris-covered glaciers in High Mountain Asia (Langtang Glacier, Nepal, and 24 K Glacier, Tibet) at very high resolution using terrestrial photogrammetry applied to imagery captured from time-lapse cameras installed on lateral moraines. We derive weekly flow-corrected DEMs of the glacier surface with an estimated uncertainty of +/- 0.2 m for Langtang Glacier and +/- 0.06 m for 24 K Glacier and use change detection to determine distributed melt rates at the surfaces of the ice cliffs throughout the study period. We compare the measured melt patterns with those derived from a 3D energy balance model to derive the contribution of the main energy fluxes. We find that ice cliff melt varies considerably throughout the melt season, with maximum melt rates of 5 to 8, which is 3 to 38 times higher than the melt rates of the surrounding debris-covered ice. Our results highlight the influence of redistributed supraglacial debris on cliff melt. At both sites, ice cliff albedo is influenced by the presence of thin debris at the ice cliff surface, which is largely controlled on 24 K Glacier by liquid precipitation events that wash away this debris. Slightly thicker or patchy debris reduces melt by 1–2 at all sites. Ultimately, our observations show a strong variability in cliff area, which is controlled by supraglacial streams and ponds and englacial cavities that promote debris slope destabilization and the lateral expansion of the cliffs. These findings highlight the need to better represent processes of debris redistribution in ice cliff models, to in turn improve estimates of ice cliff contribution to glacier melt and the long-term geomorphological evolution of debris-covered glacier surfaces.

Marin Kneib et al.

Status: open (until 21 Jun 2022)

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Marin Kneib et al.

Marin Kneib et al.


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Short summary
Ice cliffs are believed to be important contributors to the melt of debris-covered glaciers but this has rarely been quantified as the cliffs can disappear or rapidly expand within a few weeks. We used photogrammetry techniques to quantify the weekly evolution and melt of four cliffs. We found that their behavior and melt during the monsoon is strongly controlled by supraglacial debris, streams and ponds, thus providing valuable insights on the melt and evolution of debris-covered glaciers.