Using 3D turbulence-resolving simulations to understand the impact of surface properties on the energy balance of a debris-covered glacier

Pleun N.J. Bonekamp*, Chiel C. Van Heerwaarden, Jakob F. Steiner, Walter W. Immerzeel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Debris-covered glaciers account for almost onefifth of the total glacier ice volume in High Mountain Asia; however, their contribution to the total glacier melt remains uncertain, and the drivers controlling this melt are still largely unknown. Debris influences the properties (e.g. albedo, thermal conductivity, roughness) of the glacier surface and thus the surface energy balance and glacier melt. In this study we have used sensitivity tests to assess the effect of surface properties of debris on the spatial distribution of micrometeorological variables such as wind fields, moisture and temperature. Subsequently we investigated how those surface properties drive the turbulent fluxes and eventually the conductive heat flux of a debris-covered glacier. We simulated a debris-covered glacier (Lirung Glacier, Nepal) at a 1m resolution with the MicroHH model, with boundary conditions retrieved from an automatic weather station (temperature, wind and specific humidity) and unmanned aerial vehicle flights (digital elevation map and surface temperature). The model was validated using eddy covariance data. A sensitivity analysis was then performed to provide insight into how heterogeneous surface variables control the glacier microclimate. Additionally, we show that ice cliffs are local melt hot spots and that turbulent fluxes and local heat advection amplify spatial heterogeneity on the surface. The high spatial variability of small-scale meteorological variables suggests that point-based station observations cannot be simply extrapolated to an entire glacier. These outcomes should be considered in future studies for a better estimation of glacier melt in High Mountain Asia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1611-1632
Number of pages22
JournalCryosphere
Volume14
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 26 May 2020

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