Ward van Pelt
Glaciologist

Fieldwork 2017

Pictures of the 2017 field campaign to Nordenskiöldbreen, Svalbard, are now online!

Thesis

An electronic copy of my PhD-thesis, defended in 2014, can be found here!

The changing impact of snow conditions and refreezing on the mass balance of an idealized Svalbard glacier

Glacier surface melt and runoff depend strongly on seasonal and perennial snow (firn) conditions. Not only does the presence of snow and firn directly affect melt rates by reflecting solar radiation, it may also act as a buffer against mass loss by storing melt water in refrozen or liquid form. In Svalbard, ongoing and projected amplified climate change with respect to the global mean change has severe implications for the state of snow and firn and its impact on glacier mass loss. Model experiments with a coupled surface energy balance-firn model were done to investigate the climatic mass balance and the changing role of snow and firn conditions for an idealized Svalbard glacier. A climate forcing for the past, present and future (1984-2104) is constructed, based on observational data from Svalbard Airport and a seasonally dependent projection scenario. With this forcing we mimic conditions for a typical inland Svalbard glacier. Results illustrate ongoing and future firn degradation in response to an elevational retreat of the equilibrium line altitude (ELA) of 31 m per decade. The temperate firn zone is found to retreat and expand, while cold ice in the ablation zone warms considerably. In response to pronounced winter warming and an associated increase in winter rainfall, the current prevalence of refreezing during the melt season gradually shifts to the winter season in a future climate. Sensitivity tests reveal that in a present and future climate the density and thermodynamic structure of Svalbard glaciers are heavily influenced by refreezing. Refreezing acts as a net buffer against mass loss. However, the net mass balance change after refreezing is substantially smaller than the amount of refreezing itself, which can be ascribed to melt-enhancing effects after refreezing, which partly offset the primary mass-retaining effect of refreezing. Please read more about this work here: link