Estimating equilibrium-line altitude (ELA) from glacier inventory data

R. J. Braithwaite, S. C B Raper

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    A glacier's most fundamental altitude is the equilibrium-line altitude (ELA) because it divides the glacier into ablation and accumulation areas. The best parameterization of the ELA for glacier inventory is the balanced-budget ELA. We discuss direct estimation of balanced-budget ELA from mass-balance data for individual glaciers, and indirect estimation of balanced-budget ELA from simple topographic parameters available from the World Glacier Inventory (WGI), i.e. the area-median and maximum and minimum altitudes. Mass balance and ELA for individual glaciers are usually strongly correlated and we calculate balanced-budget ELA from the regression equation linking the two. We then compare balanced-budget ELA with area-median and mid-range altitudes for the 94 glaciers for which we have all the necessary data. The different ELA estimates agree well enough (±82 to ±125m) to describe geographical variations in ELA and for application of glacier-climate models to glacier inventory data. Mid-range and area-median altitudes are already available for tens of thousands of glaciers in the current WGI and should be evaluated in future inventories.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)127-132
    Number of pages5
    JournalAnnals of Glaciology
    Issue number53
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


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