Analysis of seasonal variations in mass balance and meltwater discharge of the tropical Zongo Glacier by application of a distributed energy balance model

Jean Emmanuel Sicart, Regine Hock, Pierre Ribstein, Maxime Litt, Edson Ramirez

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Abstract

A distributed energy balance model was applied to Zongo Glacier, Bolivia (16°S, 6000-4900 m above sea level, 2.4 km2), to investigate atmospheric forcing that controls seasonal variations in the mass balance and in meltwater discharge of glaciers in the outer tropics. Surface energy fluxes and melt rates were simulated for each 20 × 20m2 grid cell at an hourly resolution, for the hydrological year 1999-2000, using meteorological measurements in the ablation area. Model outputs were compared to measurements of meltwater discharge, snow cover extent, and albedo at two weather stations set up on the glacier. Changes in melt rate in three distinct seasons were related to snowfall and cloud radiative properties. During the dry season (May to August), the low melt rate was mainly caused by low long-wave emission of the cloudless thin atmosphere found at these high altitudes. From September to December, meltwater discharge increased to its annual maximum caused by an increase in solar radiation, which was close to its summer peak, as well as a decrease in glacier albedo. From January on, melt was reduced by snowfalls in the core wet season via the albedo effect but was maintained thanks to high long-wave emission from convective clouds. The frequent changes in snow cover throughout the long ablation season lead to large vertical mass balance gradients. Annual mass balance depends on the timing and length of the wet season, which interrupts the period of highest melt rates caused by solar radiation.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberD13105
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research
Volume116
Issue number13
DOIs
StatePublished - 2011

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