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Glacier-climate interactions: a synoptic approach

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posted on 24.06.2013 by Tom K.R. Matthews
The reliance on freshwater released by mountain glaciers and ice caps demands that the effects of climate change on these thermally-sensitive systems are evaluated thoroughly. Coupling climate variability to processes of mass and energy exchange at the glacier scale is challenged, however, by a lack of climate data at an appropriately fine spatial resolution. The thesis addresses this challenge through attempting to reconcile this scale mismatch: glacier boundary-layer observations of meteorology and ablation at Vestari Hagafellsjökull, Iceland, and Storglaciären, Sweden, are related to synoptic-scale meteorological variability recorded in gridded, reanalysis data. Specific attention is directed toward synoptic controls on: i) near-surface air temperature lapse rates; ii) stationarity of temperature-index melt model parameters; and iii) glacier-surface ablation. A synoptic weather-typing procedure, which groups days of similar reanalysis meteorology into weather categories , forms the basis of the analytical approach adopted to achieve these aims. Lapse rates at Vestari Hagafellsjökull were found to be shallowest during weather categories characterised by warm, cloud-free weather that encouraged katabatic drainage; steep lapse rates were encountered in weather categories associated with strong synoptic winds. Quantitatively, 26% to 38% of the daily lapse-rate variability could be explained by weather-category and regression-based models utilizing the reanalysis data: a level of skill sufficient to effect appreciable improvements in the accuracy of air temperatures extrapolated vertically over Vestari Hagafellsjökull. Weather categories also highlighted the dynamic nature of the temperature-ablation relationship. Notably, the sensitivity of ablation to changes in air temperature was observed to be non-stationary between weather categories, highlighting vulnerabilities of temperature-index models. An innovative solution to this limitation is suggested: the relationship between temperature and ablation can be varied as a function of weather-category membership. This flexibility leads to an overall improvement in the simulation of daily ablation compared to traditional temperature-index formulations (up to a 14% improvement in the amount of variance explained), without the need for additional meteorological data recorded in-situ. It is concluded that weather categories are highly appropriate for evaluating synoptic controls on glacier meteorology and surface energetics; significant improvements in the parameterization of boundary-layer meteorology and ablation rates are realised through their application.


Geography Department



  • Social Sciences


  • Geography and Environment


© Tom Kenneth Roger Matthews

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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