Pellicciotti, F. and Carenzo, M. and Helbing, J. and Rimkus, S. and Burlando, P. (2009)

On the role of subsurface heat conduction in glacier energy-balance modelling

Cite key
Annals of Glaciology
We discuss the inclusion of the subsurface heat-conduction flux into the calculation of the energy balance and ablation at the glacier–atmosphere interface. Data from automatic weather stations are used to force an energy-balance model at several locations on alpine glaciers and at one site in the dry Andes of central Chile. The heat-conduction flux is computed using a two-layer scheme, assuming that 36% of the net shortwave radiation is absorbed by the surface layer and that the rest penetrates into the snowpack. We compare simulations conducted with and without subsurface heat flux. Results show that assuming a surface temperature of zero degrees leads to a larger overestimation of melt at the sites in the accumulation area (10.4–13.3%) than in the ablation area (0.5–2.8%), due to lower air temperatures and the presence of snow. The difference between simulations with and without heat conduction is also high at the beginning and end of the ablation season (up to 29% for the first 15 days of the season), when air temperatures are lower and snow covers the glacier surface, while they are of little importance during periods of sustained melt at all the locations investigated.