Contemporary Glacier Processes and Global Change: Recent Observations from Kaskawulsh Glacier and the Donjek Range, St. Elias Mountains
With an extensive ice cover and rich display of glacier behaviour, the St. Elias Mountains continue to be an enviable natural laboratory for glaciological research. Recent work has been motivated in part by the magnitude and pace of observed glacier change in this area, which is so ice-rich that ice loss has a measurable impact on global sea level. Both detection and attribution of these changes, as well as investigations into fundamental glacier processes, have been central themes in projects initiated within the last decade and based at the Kluane Lake Research Station. The scientific objectives of these projects are (1) to quantify recent area and volume changes of Kaskawulsh Glacier and place them in historical perspective, (2) to investigate the regional variability of glacier response to climate and the modulating influence of ice dynamics, and (3) to characterize the hydromechanical controls on glacier sliding. A wide range of methods is being used, from ground-based manual measurements to space-based remote sensing. The observations to date show glaciers out of equilibrium, with significant ongoing changes to glacier area, volume, and dynamics. Computer models are being used to generalize these results, and to identify the processes most critical to our understanding of the coupled glacier-climate system.