Journal cover Journal topic
The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union

Highlight articles

Most mountain glaciers have receded throughout the last century in response to global climate change. This recession produces a range of natural hazards including glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs). We have produced the first global inventory of GLOFs associated with the failure of moraine dams and show, counterintuitively, that these have reduced in frequency over recent decades. In this paper we explore the reasons for this pattern.

Stephan Harrison, Jeffrey S. Kargel, Christian Huggel, John Reynolds, Dan H. Shugar, Richard A. Betts, Adam Emmer, Neil Glasser, Umesh K. Haritashya, Jan Klimeš, Liam Reinhardt, Yvonne Schaub, Andy Wiltshire, Dhananjay Regmi, and Vít Vilímek

This work proposes a new data synergy method for the retrieval of sea ice thickness and snow depth by using colocating L-band passive remote sensing and active laser altimetry. Physical models are adopted for the retrieval, including L-band radiation model and buoyancy relationship. Covariability of snow depth and total freeboard is further utilized to mitigate resolution differences and improve retrievability. The method can be applied to future campaigns including ICESat-2 and WCOM.

Lu Zhou, Shiming Xu, Jiping Liu, and Bin Wang

This paper makes a rather exhaustive overview of current knowledge of past, current, and future aspects of cryospheric issues in continental Europe and makes a number of reflections of areas of uncertainty requiring more attention in both scientific and policy terms. The review paper is completed by a bibliography containing 350 recent references that will certainly be of value to scholars engaged in the fields of glacier, snow, and permafrost research.

Martin Beniston, Daniel Farinotti, Markus Stoffel, Liss M. Andreassen, Erika Coppola, Nicolas Eckert, Adriano Fantini, Florie Giacona, Christian Hauck, Matthias Huss, Hendrik Huwald, Michael Lehning, Juan-Ignacio López-Moreno, Jan Magnusson, Christoph Marty, Enrique Morán-Tejéda, Samuel Morin, Mohamed Naaim, Antonello Provenzale, Antoine Rabatel, Delphine Six, Johann Stötter, Ulrich Strasser, Silvia Terzago, and Christian Vincent

We explain why snow pits across different sites in East Antarctica show visually similar isotopic variations. We argue that the similarity and the apparent cycles of around 20 cm in the δD and δ18O variations are the result of a seasonal cycle in isotopes, noise, for example from precipitation intermittency, and diffusion. The near constancy of the diffusion length across many ice-coring sites explains why the structure and cycle length is largely independent of the accumulation conditions.

Thomas Laepple, Thomas Münch, Mathieu Casado, Maria Hoerhold, Amaelle Landais, and Sepp Kipfstuhl

Geophysical methods have wide applications to permafrost studies. We show that borehole nuclear magnetic resonance is a valuable geophysical tool to rapidly characterize the liquid water content and unfrozen pore space in warm permafrost through simulation and field study. This technique is also sensitive to the ice nucleation process in situ. This method, which is applicable in a variety of soil types, can be used for single observations or for time-lapse monitoring of permafrost changes.

M. Andy Kass, Trevor P. Irons, Burke J. Minsley, Neal J. Pastick, Dana R. N. Brown, and Bruce K. Wylie

Light-absorbing impurities deposited on snow, such as soot or dust, strongly modify its evolution. We implemented impurity deposition and evolution in a detailed snowpack model, thereby expanding the reach of such models into addressing the subtle interplays between snow physics and impurities' optical properties. Model results were evaluated based on innovative field observations at an Alpine site. This allows future investigations in the fields of climate, hydrology and avalanche prediction.

Francois Tuzet, Marie Dumont, Matthieu Lafaysse, Ghislain Picard, Laurent Arnaud, Didier Voisin, Yves Lejeune, Luc Charrois, Pierre Nabat, and Samuel Morin

In this CESM modeling study, we uncover regional relationships in snowfall across Antarctica that are corroborated by regional modeling and ice core records. These relationships are driven by variability in large-scale atmospheric moisture transport and dampen overall Antarctic snowfall variability, with implications for Antarctic-sourced sea level variability and detection of an emergent anthropogenic signal in Antarctic mass trends.

Jeremy Fyke, Jan T. M. Lenaerts, and Hailong Wang

We combine a synthesis of 22 ice core records and a model of soluble impurity transport to investigate the enigmatic, post-depositional migration of methanesulfonic acid in polar ice. Our findings suggest that migration may be universal across coastal regions of Greenland and Antarctica, though it is mitigated at sites with higher accumulation and (or) lower impurity content. Records exhibiting severe migration may still be useful for inferring decadal and lower-frequency climate variability.

Matthew Osman, Sarah B. Das, Olivier Marchal, and Matthew J. Evans

The oldest dated deep ice core drilled in Antarctica has been retrieved at EPICA Dome C (EDC), reaching ~ 800 000 years. Obtaining an older palaeoclimatic record from Antarctica is one of the greatest challenges of the ice core community. Here, we estimate the age of basal ice in the Dome C area. We find that old ice (> 1.5 Myr) likely exists in two regions a few tens of kilometres away from EDC: "Little Dome C Patch" and "North Patch".

Frédéric Parrenin, Marie G. P. Cavitte, Donald D. Blankenship, Jérôme Chappellaz, Hubertus Fischer, Olivier Gagliardini, Valérie Masson-Delmotte, Olivier Passalacqua, Catherine Ritz, Jason Roberts, Martin J. Siegert, and Duncan A. Young

We show mathematically and computationally how discharge of ice from ocean-terminating glaciers is controlled by a combination of different forces acting on ice near the grounding line of a glacier and how that combination of forces is affected by the process of iceberg formation, which limits the length of floating ice tongues extending in front of the glacier. We show that a deeper fjord may lead to a longer ice tongue providing greater drag on the glacier, slowing the rate of ice discharge.

Christian Schoof, Andrew D. Davis, and Tiberiu V. Popa

We developed the first merging of CryoSat-2 and SMOS sea-ice thickness retrievals. ESA's Earth Explorer SMOS satellite can detect thin sea ice, whereas its companion CryoSat-2, designed to observe thicker perennial sea ice, lacks sensitivity. Using these satellite missions together completes the picture of the changing Arctic sea ice and provides a more accurate and comprehensive view on the actual state of Arctic sea-ice thickness.

Robert Ricker, Stefan Hendricks, Lars Kaleschke, Xiangshan Tian-Kunze, Jennifer King, and Christian Haas

The Greenland ice sheet melts faster in a warmer climate. The ice sheet is flatter at high elevation, therefore atmospheric warming increases the melt area exponentially. For current climate conditions, we find that the ice sheet shape amplifies the total meltwater generation by roughly 60%. Meltwater is not stored underneath the ice sheet, as previously found, but it does take multiple days for it to pass through the seasonally developing subglacial drainage channels, moderating discharge.

Dirk van As, Andreas Bech Mikkelsen, Morten Holtegaard Nielsen, Jason E. Box, Lillemor Claesson Liljedahl, Katrin Lindbäck, Lincoln Pitcher, and Bent Hasholt

This work defines a metric for evaluation of a specific model snow process, namely, heat transfer through snow into soil. Heat transfer through snow regulates the difference in air temperature versus soil temperature. Accurate representation of the snow heat transfer process is critically important for accurate representation of the current and future state of permafrost. Utilizing this metric, we can clearly identify models that can and cannot reasonably represent snow heat transfer.

Andrew G. Slater, David M. Lawrence, and Charles D. Koven

Recent surging of Kyagar Glacier (Karakoram) caused a hazardous ice-dammed lake to form and burst in 2015 and 2016. We use remotely sensed glacier surface velocities and surface elevation to observe dramatic changes in speed and mass distribution during the surge. The surge was hydrologically controlled with rapid summer onset and dramatic termination following lake outburst. Since the surge, the potential outburst hazard has remained high, and continued remote monitoring is crucial.

Vanessa Round, Silvan Leinss, Matthias Huss, Christoph Haemmig, and Irena Hajnsek

We simulate the future snow cover in the Alps with the help of a snow model, which is fed by projected temperature and precipitation changes from a large set of climate models. The results demonstrate that snow below 1000 m is probably a rare guest at the end of the century. Moreover, even above 3000 m the simulations show a drastic decrease in snow depth. However, the results reveal that the projected snow cover reduction can be mitigated by 50 % if we manage to keep global warming below 2°.

Christoph Marty, Sebastian Schlögl, Mathias Bavay, and Michael Lehning

Previous geodetic estimates of glacier mass changes in the Karakoram have revealed balanced budgets or a possible slight mass gain since the year ~2000. We used old US reconnaissance imagery and could show that glaciers in the Hunza River basin (Central Karakoram) experienced on average no significant mass changes also since the 1970s. Likewise the glaciers had heterogeneous behaviour with frequent surge activities during the last 40 years.

Tobias Bolch, Tino Pieczonka, Kriti Mukherjee, and Joseph Shea

In this paper we investigate elevation changes of Thwaites Glacier, West Antarctica, one of the main sources of excess ice discharge into the ocean. We find that in early 2013, four subglacial lakes separated by 100 km drained suddenly, discharging more than 3 cubic kilometres of water under the fastest part of the glacier in less than 6 months. Concurrent ice-speed measurements show only minor changes, suggesting that ice dynamics are not strongly sensitive to changes in water flow.

Benjamin E. Smith, Noel Gourmelen, Alexander Huth, and Ian Joughin

Based on DEM simulations we developed a new model for the onset of crack propagation in snow slab avalanche release. The model reconciles past approaches by considering the complex interplay between slab elasticity and the mechanical behavior of the weak layer including its structural collapse. The model agrees with extensive field data and can reproduce crack propagation on low-angle terrain and the decrease in critical crack length with increasing slope angle observed in numerical experiments.

Johan Gaume, Alec van Herwijnen, Guillaume Chambon, Nander Wever, and Jürg Schweizer

The absorption of visible light in ice is very weak but its precise value is unknown. By measuring the profile of light intensity in snow, Warren and Brand (2006) deduced that light is attenuated by a factor 2 per kilometer in pure ice at a wavelength of 400 nm. We replicated their experiment on a large number of samples and found that ice absorption is at least 10 times stronger. The paper explores various potential physical and statistical biases that could impact the experiment.

Ghislain Picard, Quentin Libois, and Laurent Arnaud

Here we report new data from in situ oceanographic surveys and high-resolution ocean modelling experiments in the Commonwealth Bay region of East Antarctica, where in 2010 there was a major reconfiguration of the regional icescape due to the collision of the 97 km long iceberg B09B with the Mertz Glacier tongue. Here we compare post-calving observations with high-resolution ocean modelling which suggest that this reconfiguration has led to the development of a new polynya off Commonwealth Bay.

Christopher J. Fogwill, Erik van Sebille, Eva A. Cougnon, Chris S. M. Turney, Steve R. Rintoul, Benjamin K. Galton-Fenzi, Graeme F. Clark, E. M. Marzinelli, Eleanor B. Rainsley, and Lionel Carter

The thermal conductivity (TC) of the snow and top soil greatly impacts the permafrost energy budget. We report the first winter-long monitoring of snow and soil TC in the high Arctic. The data and field observations show the formation of a highly insulating basal depth hoar layer overlaid by a more conductive wind slab. Detailed snow physics models developed for alpine snow cannot reproduce observations because they neglect the strong upward vertical water vapor flux prevailing in Arctic snow.

Florent Domine, Mathieu Barrere, and Denis Sarrazin

The reconstruction of past snow accumulation rates is crucial in the context of recent climate change and sea level rise. We measured ~ 250 years of snow accumulation using a 120 m ice core drilled in coastal East Antarctica, where such long records are very scarce. This study is the first to show an increase in snow accumulation, beginning in the 20th and particularly marked in the last 50 years, thereby confirming model predictions of increased snowfall associated with climate change.

Morgane Philippe, Jean-Louis Tison, Karen Fjøsne, Bryn Hubbard, Helle A. Kjær, Jan T. M. Lenaerts, Reinhard Drews, Simon G. Sheldon, Kevin De Bondt, Philippe Claeys, and Frank Pattyn

Here we utilize declassified spy satellite imagery to quantify ice volume loss of glaciers in the eastern Himalayas over approximately the last three decades. Clean-ice and debris-covered glaciers show similar magnitudes of ice loss, while calving glaciers are contributing a disproportionately large amount to total ice loss. Results highlight important physical processes affecting the ice mass budget and associated water resources in the Himalayas.

J. M. Maurer, S. B. Rupper, and J. M. Schaefer

The upper 50-100 m of the world's ice sheets consists of the firn layer, a porous layer of snow that is slowly compacted by overlying snow. Understanding air movement inside the firn is critical for ice core climate reconstructions. Buizert and Severinghaus identify and describe a new mechanism of firn air movement. High- and low-pressure systems force air movement in the firn that drives strong mixing, called dispersion. Dispersion is the main mechanism for air mixing in the deep firn.

C. Buizert and J. P. Severinghaus

Contemporary climate warming over the Arctic is accelerating mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet through increasing surface melt, emphasizing the need to closely monitor surface mass balance in order to improve sea-level rise predictions. Here, we quantify the net annual accumulation over the Greenland Ice Sheet, which comprises the largest component of surface mass balance, at a higher spatial resolution than currently available using high-resolution, airborne-radar data.

L. S. Koenig, A. Ivanoff, P. M. Alexander, J. A. MacGregor, X. Fettweis, B. Panzer, J. D. Paden, R. R. Forster, I. Das, J. R. McConnell, M. Tedesco, C. Leuschen, and P. Gogineni

Satellite observations show the Arctic sea ice has decreased the last 30 years. From our wave model hindcast and satellite altimeter datasets we observe profound increasing wave heights, which are caused by the loss of sea ice and not the driving winds. If ice-free conditions persist later into fall, then regions like the Beaufort-Chukchi Sea will be prone to developing larger waves since the driving winds are strong this time of year.

J. E. Stopa, F. Ardhuin, and F. Girard-Ardhuin

We measured the heights of the five tallest peaks in the US Arctic using fodar, a new airborne photogrammetric technique using structure-from-motion software. The highest peaks are Mt Isto (2735.6 m), Mt. Hubley (2717.6 m), Mt. Chamberlin (2712.3 m), Mt. Michelson (2698.1 m), and an unnamed peak (2694.9 m). We found fodar suitable for topographic change detection on the centimeter scale in steep mountain terrain, such as for measuring snow depths.

M. Nolan and K. DesLauriers

We compared satellite-derived estimates of spatial and seasonal variations in Greenland Ice Sheet mass with a set of model simulations, revealing an agreement between models and satellite estimates for the ice-sheet-wide seasonal fluctuations in mass, but disagreement at finer spatial scales. The model simulations underestimate low-elevation mass loss. Improving the ability of models to capture variations and trends in Greenland Ice Sheet mass is important for estimating future sea level rise.

P. M. Alexander, M. Tedesco, N.-J. Schlegel, S. B. Luthcke, X. Fettweis, and E. Larour

We present an extensive data set of ground-based and airborne electromagnetic ice thickness measurements covering Fram Strait in summer between 2001 and 2012. An investigation of back trajectories of surveyed sea ice using satellite-based sea ice motion data allows us to examine the connection between thickness variability, ice age and source area. In addition, we determine across and along strait gradients in ice thickness and associated volume fluxes.

T. Krumpen, R. Gerdes, C. Haas, S. Hendricks, A. Herber, V. Selyuzhenok, L. Smedsrud, and G. Spreen

We show that strong electrical self-potential fields are generated in melting in in situ snowpacks at Rhone Glacier and Jungfraujoch Glacier, Switzerland. We conclude that the electrical self-potential method is a promising snow and firn hydrology sensor, owing to its suitability for sensing lateral and vertical liquid water flows directly and minimally invasively, complementing established observational programs and monitoring autonomously at a low cost.

S. S. Thompson, B. Kulessa, R. L. H. Essery, and M. P. Lüthi

We calibrate a time-dependent ice model through optimal fit to transient observations of surface elevation and velocity, a novel procedure in glaciology and in particular for an ice stream with a dynamic grounding line. We show this procedure gives a level of confidence in model projections that cannot be achieved through more commonly used glaciological data assimilation methods. We show that Smith Glacier is in a state of retreat regardless of climatic forcing for the next several decades.

D. N. G. Goldberg, P. H. Heimbach, I. J. Joughin, and B. E. S. Smith

Projections of Antarctic dynamics and contribution to sea-level rise are evaluated in the light of intercomparison exercises dedicated to evaluate models' ability of representing coastal changes. Uncertainties in projections can be substantially decreased if a selection of models is made and models that are unqualified for the representation of coastal dynamics are excluded.

G. Durand and F. Pattyn

The oldest paleoclimatic information is buried within the lowermost layers of deep ice cores. It is therefore essential to judge how deep these records remain unaltered. We study the bottom 60 meters of the EPICA Dome C ice core from central Antarctica to show that the paleoclimatic signal is only affected at the small scale (decimeters) in terms of some of the global ice properties. However our data suggest that the time scale has been considerably distorted by mechanical stretching.

J.-L. Tison, M. de Angelis, G. Littot, E. Wolff, H. Fischer, M. Hansson, M. Bigler, R. Udisti, A. Wegner, J. Jouzel, B. Stenni, S. Johnsen, V. Masson-Delmotte, A. Landais, V. Lipenkov, L. Loulergue, J.-M. Barnola, J.-R. Petit, B. Delmonte, G. Dreyfus, D. Dahl-Jensen, G. Durand, B. Bereiter, A. Schilt, R. Spahni, K. Pol, R. Lorrain, R. Souchez, and D. Samyn

We used a high-resolution ice sheet model capable of resolving grounding line dynamics (BISICLES) to compute responses of the major West Antarctic ice streams to projections of ocean and atmospheric warming. This is computationally demanding, and although other groups have considered parts of West Antarctica, we think this is the first calculation for the whole region at the sub-kilometer resolution that we show is required.

S. L. Cornford, D. F. Martin, A. J. Payne, E. G. Ng, A. M. Le Brocq, R. M. Gladstone, T. L. Edwards, S. R. Shannon, C. Agosta, M. R. van den Broeke, H. H. Hellmer, G. Krinner, S. R. M. Ligtenberg, R. Timmermann, and D. G. Vaughan

In this paper we use a global land-surface model to study the dynamics of Arctic permafrost. We examine the impact of new and improved processes in the model, namely soil depth and resolution, organic soils, moss and the representation of snow. These improvements make the simulated soil temperatures and thaw depth significantly more realistic. Simulations under future climate scenarios show that permafrost thaws more slowly in the new model version, but still a large amount is lost by 2100.

S. E. Chadburn, E. J. Burke, R. L. E. Essery, J. Boike, M. Langer, M. Heikenfeld, P. M. Cox, and P. Friedlingstein

This paper presents a photogrammetric method for measuring topography from manned aircraft with an accuracy of 30 cm and repeatability of 8 cm, at significantly lower cost than other methods. Here we created difference maps to demonstrate that we could measure snow depth with an accuracy of 10 cm compared to over 6000 snow-probe measurements on the ground, but do so over entire watersheds at 10-20 cm spatial resolution rather than just a few transects.

M. Nolan, C. Larsen, and M. Sturm

We use remotely sensed land surface temperature and land cover in conjunction with air temperature and snowfall from a reanalysis product as input for a simple permafrost model. The scheme is applied to the permafrost regions bordering the North Atlantic. A comparison with ground temperatures in boreholes suggests a modeling accuracy of 2 to 2.5 °C.

S. Westermann, T. I. Østby, K. Gisnås, T. V. Schuler, and B. Etzelmüller

Within the last year, a large rift in the southern part of the Larsen C Ice Shelf, Antarctic Peninsula, propagated towards the inner part of the ice shelf. In this study we present the development of the rift as derived from remote sensing data and assess the impact of possible calving scenarios on the future stability of the Larsen C Ice Shelf, using a numerical model. We find that the calving front is likely to become unstable after the anticipated calving events.

D. Jansen, A. J. Luckman, A. Cook, S. Bevan, B. Kulessa, B. Hubbard, and P. R. Holland

Snow and ice provide large amounts of meltwater to the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers. In this study we show that climate change will reduce the amount of snow falling in the Himalayas, Hindu Kush and Karakoram substantially. The limited number of observations in remote upper-level terrain makes it difficult to get a complete overview of the situation today, but our results indicate that by 2071–2100 snowfall may be reduced by 30–70% with the strongest anthropogenic forcing scenario.

E. Viste and A. Sorteberg

A glacier mass balance and redistribution model that integrates field observations and downscaled climate fields is developed to examine glacier sensitivity to future climate in the Everest region of Nepal.  The modelled sensitivity of glaciers to future climate change is high, and glacier mass loss is sustained through the 21st century for both middle- and high-emission scenarios.  Projected temperature increases will expose large glacier areas to melt and reduce snow accumulations.

J. M. Shea, W. W. Immerzeel, P. Wagnon, C. Vincent, and S. Bajracharya

We present a new glacier inventory for high-mountain Asia named “Glacier Area Mapping for Discharge from the Asian Mountains” (GAMDAM). Glacier outlines were delineated manually using 356 Landsat ETM+ scenes in 226 path-row sets from the period 1999–2003, in conjunction with a digital elevation model and high-resolution Google EarthTM imagery. Our GAMDAM Glacier Inventory includes 87,084 glaciers covering a total area of 91,263 ± 13,689 km2 throughout high-mountain Asia.

T. Nuimura, A. Sakai, K. Taniguchi, H. Nagai, D. Lamsal, S. Tsutaki, A. Kozawa, Y. Hoshina, S. Takenaka, S. Omiya, K. Tsunematsu, P. Tshering, and K. Fujita

We present a new method to compute sea ice deformation fields from satellite-derived motion. The method particularly reduces the artificial noise that arises along discontinuities in the sea ice motion field. We estimate that this artificial noise may cause an overestimation of about 60% of sea ice opening and closing. The constant overestimation of the opening and closing could have led in previous studies to a large overestimation of freezing in leads, salt rejection and sea ice ridging.

S. Bouillon and P. Rampal

Ice discharge into the ocean from outlet glaciers is an important component of mass loss of the Greenland ice sheet. Here, we present a simple parameterization of ice discharge for coarse resolution ice sheet models, suitable for large ensembles or long-term palaeo simulations. This parameterization reproduces in a good approximation the present-day ice discharge compared with estimates, and the simulation of the present-day ice sheet elevation is considerably improved.

R. Calov, A. Robinson, M. Perrette, and A. Ganopolski

Existing methods (area-volume relations, a slope-dependent volume estimation method, and two ice-thickness distribution models) are used to estimate the ice reserves stored in Himalayan-Karakoram glaciers. Resulting volumes range from 2955–4737 km³. Results from the ice-thickness distribution models agree well with local measurements; volume estimates from area-related relations exceed the estimates from the other approaches. Evidence on the effect of the selected method on results is provided.

H. Frey, H. Machguth, M. Huss, C. Huggel, S. Bajracharya, T. Bolch, A. Kulkarni, A. Linsbauer, N. Salzmann, and M. Stoffel

This study of one of the most rapidly changing glacier regions on Earth – the Antarctic Peninsula – uses two types of satellite data to measure the rates of ice loss in detail for the individual glaciers. The satellite data is laser altimetry from ICESat and stereo image DEM differences. The results show that 24..9 ± 7.8 billion tons of ice are lost from the region north of 66°S on the Peninsula each year. The majority of the data cover 2003-2008.

T. A. Scambos, E. Berthier, T. Haran, C. A. Shuman, A. J. Cook, S. R. M. Ligtenberg, and J. Bohlander

Publications Copernicus