The influence of superimposed-ice formation on the sensitivity of glacier mass balance to climate change

John Woodward*, Martin Sharp, Anthony Arendt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


The formation of superimposed ice at the surface of high-Arctic glaciers is an important control on glacier mass balance, but one which is usually modelled in only a schematic fashion. A method is developed to predict the relationship between the thickness of superimposed ice formed and the mean annual air temperature (which approximates the ice temperature at 14 m depth). This relationship is used to investigate the dependence of the proportion of snowpack water equivalent which forms superimposed ice on changes in mean annual temperature and patterns of snow accumulation. Increased temperatures are likely to reduce the extent of the zone of superimposed-ice accumulation and the thickness of superimposed ice formed. This will have a negative effect on glacier mass balance. This is true even if warming occurs only in the winter months, since near-surface ice temperatures will respond to such warming. Forjohn Evans Glacier, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Canada (79°40′ N, 74°00′W), a 1°C rise in mean annual air temperature due solely to winter warming is predicted to reduce the specific mass balance of the glacier by 0.008 m a-1 as a result of decreased superimposed-ice formation. Although such a response is small in comparison to the changes which might result from summer warming, it is nonetheless significant given the very low specific mass balance of many high-Arctic glaciers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)186-190
Number of pages5
JournalAnnals of Glaciology
Publication statusPublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


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