Glacier Mass Balance I: Snowfall and Glacier Nourishment

  • Kenneth Hewitt
Part of the Advances in Asian Human-Environmental Research book series (AAHER)


The inputs to glacier mass balance and phenomena that influence them in the Karakoram are considered in this chapter. Snowfall in the source areas of the glaciers is the first concern. Observations at Biafo Glacier, an Alpine type, offer a rare, relatively detailed quantification of high-altitude snowfall in the accumulation zone. The data show that maximum precipitation in the Central Karakoram occurs in glacier source zones. Between 4,800 and 5,800 m snowfall exceeds 1,000 mm water equivalent annually, rising to as much as 2,500 mm in some years and locations. This is much more than at valley weather stations, and whereas the latter have a dominant winter season precipitation, an ‘all-year’ input regime is indicated for the glacier basins in the Mustagh Karakoram. Summer snowfall is partly from Arabian Sea moisture but the summer monsoon proves significant in most years. Establishing the presence and quantities of firn and firn limits is problematic. In Biafo’s accumulation zone, extensive, changeable surface and near-surface subzones are described in cold, dry and wet snow, summer horizons with dirt and ice layers, and complicated relations to the ablation zone below. Thick, clean snow layers from individual, mainly winter, storms are observed and also depth hoar. Such information, from the accessible high elevation areas of an Alpine-type glacier, is a basis to consider what happens on the much greater numbers of less accessible Mustagh- and Turkestan-type glaciers where the intervening role of avalanching is critical. Avalanches dominate snow inputs and continue to add mass far into what otherwise appear as ablation zones. Thus, a significant component of avalanche nourishment occurs below where firn lines and equilibrium line altitudes are conventionally placed. At higher elevations and around interfluves, the evidence of wind action is particularly important in feeding small and minor ice masses and as an influence on avalanching.


Glacier accumulation High-altitude snowfall Biafo Glacier Snow pits Snow chemistry Precipitation gradients Precipitation sources Firn Firn limits Avalanche nourishment AAR Cornices Cornice glaciers 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kenneth Hewitt
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Geography and Environmental StudiesWilfrid Laurier UniversityWaterlooCanada

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