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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
© Author(s) 2016. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
09 Mar 2016
Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of the manuscript for further review has not been submitted.
Thinning of the Quelccaya Ice Cap over the last thirty years
C. D. Chadwell1, D. R. Hardy2, C. Braun3, H. H. Brecher4, and L. G. Thompson4 1Marine Physical Lab, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Univ. of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0205, USA
2Department of Geosciences, Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003-9297, USA
3Geography and Regional Planning/Environmental Science, Westfield State Univ., Westfield, MA 01086, USA
4Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA
Abstract. Direct measurements of the decadal response of Tropical glaciers to environmental changes are difficult to acquire within their accumulation zones. In 2013, we used dual-frequency kinematic GPS to re-measure the surface elevations at 46 sites, from the margin to across the summit of the Quelccaya Ice Cap, first measured in 1983 using terrestrial surveying methods. In 2015, six additional sites on the western margin, first observed in 1978, were remeasured. Over the past 30 years, the ice cap summit has thinned by 4.41 ± 0.23 m (2σ), with a maximum ice loss at one site near the margin of 63.4 ± 0.34 m (2σ) over 37 years. Using geophysical methods that located the sub-glacial bedrock, we estimate the unit-volume of ice in 1983 along a profile from the 1983 margin to the summit and then the change in volume from 1983 to 2013 by differencing the surface elevations. Over the past 30 years, 21.2 ± 0.3 % (2σ) of the ice unit-volume has been lost suggesting an average annual mass balance rate of −0.5 ± 0.1 m w.e. a−1 (2σ). Increasing air temperature at high elevations of the Andes is likely a major driver of the observed changes. Specifically, within the ablation zone, thinning is likely caused by a 1–2 m w.e. a−1 increase in melting and sublimation above steady-state.Within the accumulation zone, analysis of annual, dry-season summit pits suggests that surface lowering may be caused by both a slight decrease in net snow accumulation and an increase in firnification rate, though this interpretation yet lacks statistical significance. The role of ice flux changes since 1983/4 remains unconstrained, awaiting updated measurements of ice surface velocities across the ice cap.

Citation: Chadwell, C. D., Hardy, D. R., Braun, C., Brecher, H. H., and Thompson, L. G.: Thinning of the Quelccaya Ice Cap over the last thirty years, The Cryosphere Discuss.,, in review, 2016.
C. D. Chadwell et al.
C. D. Chadwell et al.


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Short summary
The Quelccaya Ice Cap in southern Peru is the largest tropical glacier on earth. Aerial photographs and satellite images have documented retreat of its margins since 1963. While thinning of the glacier has been observed at its margins, here we document for the first time that the glacier has thinned all over during the past 30 years, including the elevation lowering 4.4 m within the highest regions of the glacier above ~ 5400 m a.s.l., where snow accumulation feeds the glacier.
The Quelccaya Ice Cap in southern Peru is the largest tropical glacier on earth. Aerial...