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Uncertainty in Estimates of Net Seasonal Snow Accumulation on Glacier from In Situ Measurements
  • Alexandra Pulwicki,
  • Gwenn Flowers,
  • Valentina Radic
Alexandra Pulwicki

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Gwenn Flowers
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Valentina Radic
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Accurately estimating the net seasonal snow accumulation (or “winter balance”) on glaciers is central to assessing glacier health and predicting glacier runoff. However, measuring and modeling snow distribution is inherently difficult in mountainous terrain, resulting in high uncertainties in estimates of winter balance. Our work focuses on uncertainty attribution within the process of converting direct measurements of snow depth and density to estimates of winter balance. We collected more than 9000 direct measurements of snow depth across three glaciers in the St. Elias Mountains, Yukon, Canada in May 2016. Linear regression (LR) and simple kriging (SK), combined with cross correlation and Bayesian model averaging, are used to interpolate estimates of snow water equivalent (SWE) from snow depth and density measurements. Snow distribution patterns are found to differ considerably between glaciers, highlighting strong inter- and intra-basin variability. Elevation is found to be the dominant control of the spatial distribution of SWE, but the relationship varies considerably between glaciers. A simple parameterization of wind redistribution is also a small but statistically significant predictor of SWE. The SWE estimated for one study glacier has a short range parameter (90 m) and both LR and SK estimate a winter balance of ~0.6 m w.e. but are poor predictors of SWE at measurement locations. The other two glaciers have longer SWE range parameters (~450 m) and due to differences in extrapolation, SK estimates are more than 0.1 m w.e. (up to 40%) lower than LR estimates. By using a Monte Carlo method to quantify the effects of various sources of uncertainty, we find that the interpolation of estimated values of SWE is a larger source of uncertainty than the assignment of snow density or than the representation of the SWE value within a terrain model grid cell. For our study glaciers, the total winter balance uncertainty ranges from 0.03 (8%) to 0.15 (54%) m w.e. depending primarily on the interpolation method. Despite the challenges associated with accurately and precisely estimating winter balance, our results are consistent with the previously reported regional accumulation gradient.