Patterns of glacier ablation across North-Central Chile: Identifying the limits of empirical melt models under sublimation-favorable conditions

Alvaro Ayala, Francesca Pellicciotti, Shelley MacDonell, James McPhee, P. Burlando

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Abstract

We investigate the energy balance and ablation regimes of glaciers in high-elevation, dry environments using glaciometeorological data collected on six glaciers in the semiarid Andes of North-Central Chile (29–34°S, 3127–5324 m). We use a point-scale physically based energy balance (EB) model and an enhanced Temperature-Index (ETI) model that calculates melt rates only as a function of air temperature and net shortwave radiation. At all sites, the largest energy inputs are net shortwave and incoming longwave radiation, which are controlled by surface albedo and elevation, respectively. Turbulent fluxes cancel each other out at the lower sites, but as elevation increases, cold, dry and wind-exposed conditions increase the magnitude of negative latent heat fluxes, associated with large surface sublimation rates. In midsummer (January), ablation rates vary from 67.9 mm w.e. d−1 at the lowest site (∼100% corresponding to melt), to 2.3 mm w.e. d−1 at the highest site (>85% corresponding to surface sublimation). At low-elevation, low-albedo, melt-dominated sites, the ETI model correctly reproduces melt using a large range of possible parameters, but both the performance and parameter transferability decrease with elevation for two main reasons: (i) the air temperature threshold approach for melt onset does not capture the diurnal variability of melt in cold and strong irradiated environments and (ii) energy losses decrease the correlation between melt and net shortwave radiation. We summarize our results by means of an elevation profile of ablation components that can be used as reference in future studies of glacier ablation in the semiarid Andes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5601-5625
JournalWater Resources Research
Volume53
Issue number7
Early online date10 Jul 2017
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017

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