Ice-Atmosphere Interactions on the Devon Ice Cap, Canada: the Effects of Climate Warming on Surface Energy Balance, Melting, and Firn Stratigraphy

  • Author / Creator
    Gascon, Gabrielle
  • In order to better constrain the magnitude of projected sea-level rise from Canadian Arctic glaciers during the 21st century warming, it is critical to understand the environmental mechanisms that enhance surface warming and melt, and how the projected increase in surface melt will translate into increased runoff. Between 2004 and 2010, a 4 °C increase in mean air summer temperature, and a 6.1 day yr-1 increase in melt season duration were observed on the Devon Ice Cap, Nunavut. At the same time, a combination of strengthening of the 500 hPa ridge over the Arctic in June-July, and more frequent south-westerly low-pressure systems in August after 2005 created atmospheric conditions that contributed to an increase in the surface energy balance of the ice cap. At 1400m elevation, these changes led to a doubling of the available melt energy and surface melt between 2007 and 2010. Currently, refreezing of meltwater in firn buffers the relationship between increased surface melt and runoff. Between 2007 and 2012, increased meltwater percolation and infiltration ice formation associated with high surface melt rates modified the stratigraphy of firn in the ice cap’s accumulation area very substantially. Growth of a 0.5-4.5 m thick ice layer that filled much of the pore volume of the upper part of the firn reduced vertical percolation of meltwater into deeper parts of the firn. This progressively limited the water storage potential of the firn reservoir, and likely caused a significant increase in surface runoff. An evaluation of the snowpack model Crocus against ground observations for the period 2004-2012 showed that, although the model simulated observed density/depth profiles relatively well at all sites, its representation of heterogeneous percolation as a homogeneous process created conditions that favoured excessive near-surface freezing. At the same time, Crocus’s parameterization of the permeability of ice layers forced meltwater to percolate through them, preventing the buildup of thick impermeable ice layers. These results highlight the importance of treating meltwater percolation in firn as a heterogeneous process, and of accurately representing the impermeability of ice layers to meltwater flow, if the model is to accurately reproduce firn density profile evolution and surface runoff during periods of climate warming.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2014
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.