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Variable melt rates of Continental Glacier compared with trends of snowpack and temperature in the Wind River Range, Wyoming

Authors: Jeffrey VanLooy*, University of North Dakota, Yanan Li, Texas State University, Gregory Vandeberg, University of North Dakota
Topics: Cryosphere
Keywords: Glaciers, Snowpack, Climate
Session Type: Poster
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Winter snowpack is critical for providing an important source of water for activities including irrigation, fisheries, and recreation in semi-arid regions of the western United States, such as around the Wind River Range in Wyoming. Glaciers, which also exist in the range, supplement summer streamflow, especially when winter snowpack is diminished. Given the importance of the snowpack and glaciers as water resources, it is necessary to monitor their long term conditions. Analysis of surface elevation changes of Continental Glacier have been conducted using historical elevation data from topographic maps, a radar DEM, field based GPS, and aerial imagery spanning 53 years, providing rates of change in the glacier surface elevations. Snowpack (i.e. snow depth and density) and temperature data obtained from Snow Telemetry (SNOTEL) sites were also analyzed in relation to the variability in the glacier surface change rates. Results from the analysis indicate snow depth and snow density have increased on average over the last two decades within the range. However, Continental Glacier has experienced surface elevation decreases over the 53-year period, with an increase in melting from 2000 – 2012. This suggests that the increased snowpack is not enough to counteract the glacial melting during the summer time. Given the lack of glacial recharge, the glaciers will eventually disappear if conditions persist, leading to the loss of a supplemental water resource during the late summer season for this region.

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