Glaciers and Climate Project

Gulkana Glacier

Map showing the location of the Gulkana Glacier

Elevation Range: Approximately 1160—2470 meters
Location: Latitude: 63°16'3.91"N, Longitude: 145°25'15.97"W
Area: 16.7 km2

Gulkana Glacier with the weather station in the foreground.
Gulkana Glacier with the weather station in the foreground.

Gulkana Glacier is located along the south flank of the eastern Alaska Range. The climate is continental, characterized by a large range in temperatures, and irregular, lighter precipitation as compared to more coastal areas. The main trunk of the glacier has a southerly aspect, and is fed by four cirques with west, south, and east aspects. It spans 1300 m of elevation, from 1160 to 2470 m. The glacier is in a 31.5 km2 basin and in 2011 it had an area of 16.7 km2 (O'Neel et al, 2014).

In 1966 scientists with the USGS began collecting mass balance data on Gulkana Glacier, one of two "benchmark glaciers" in Alaska. Repeated point measurements at established index sites, in conjunction with local meteorology and runoff data, are used to estimate glacier-wide mass balances. These data constitute the longest continuous set of mass-balance data in North America (Josberger and others, 2007) which are used to understand glacier dynamics and hydrology, and understand the glacier's response to climate change.

Research

Gulkana Glacier map with research sites and 1974/2013 extent
Gulkana Glacier map with research sites and 1974/2013 extent
Snow depth and density are measured on Gulkana Glacier
Snow depth and density are measured on Gulkana Glacier

Among other glaciological research, mass balance measurements of Gulkana Glacier began in the early 1960s with the University of Alaska Gulkana Glacier Project (Péwé and Reger, 1983). In 1966 the USGS began direct measurements of surface mass balance, which, after a decade of dense spatial sampling, were reduced to three "index" sites distributed across the elevation range of Gulkana Glacier. Field visits to measure and maintain stakes at the three index sites are made each spring, at the onset of the melt season, and again in early autumn, near its completion. Density of the material gained or lost is measured with a snow-pit or core. By collecting data near the balance maxima and minima direct measurements closely reflect maximum winter accumulation and the annual balances at each location. Since 1975 both the stakes and the glacier surface elevations at the actual index sites have been surveyed to allow calculations of velocity and surface elevation change.


Mass balance data summary

Alaska Benchmark Glacier Mass Balance - Phase 1; Wolverine, Gulkana Glaciers


12 publications matching the specified parameters were found.

Arendt, A., S. Luthcke, A. Gardner, S. O'Neel, D. Hill, G. Moholdt, and W. Abdalati, 2013, Analysis of a GRACE global mascon solution for Gulf of Alaska glaciers, Journal of Glaciology, Vol.59, no. 217, p. 913-924, doi: 10.3189/2013JoG12J197.

Cox, L.H. and R. S. March, 2004, Comparison of geodetic and glaciological mass-balance techniques, Gulkana Glacier, Alaska, U.S.A., Journal of Glaciology, Vol. 50, no. 170, p. 363-370.

Harrison, W.D, L. H.Cox, R. Hock, R. S. March, and E. C. Pettit, 2009, Implications for the dynamic health of a glacier from comparison of conventional and reference-surface balances, Annals of Glaciology, Vol. 50, p. 25-30.

Josberger, E.G., W. R. Bidlake, R. S. March, and B. W. Kennedy, 2007, Glacier mass-balance fluctuations in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, USA, Annals of Glaciology, Vol. 46, p.291-296.

March, R.S., 2000, Mass balance, meteorological, ice motion, surface altitude, runoff, and ice thickness data at Gulkana Glacier, Alaska, 1995 balance year, U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 00-4074, 33 p.
Available at: https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/wri004074

March, R.S., 2003, Mass Balance, meteorology, area altitude distribution, glacier-surface altitude, ice motion, terminus position, and runoff at Gulkana Glacier, Alaska, 1996 balance year, U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 03-4095, 33 p.
Available at: https://pubs.usgs.gov/wri/wri034095/pdf/wrir.03-4095.pdf

March, R.S., and S. O'Neel, 2011, Gulkana Glacier, Alaska—Mass balance, meteorology, and water measurements, 1997-2001, U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2011-5046, 72 p.
Available at: https://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2011/5046/

McCabe, G.J., A. G. Fountain, and M. Dyurgerov, 2000, Variability in winter mass balance of Northern Hemisphere glaciers and relations with atmospheric circulation, Arctic, Antarctica, and Alpine Research, Vol. 32, p. 64-72.
Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1552411?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

O'Neel, S. R., Sass, L. C., McNeil, C. and McGrath, D., 2016, USGS Alaska Benchmark Glacier Mass Balance Data - Phase 1; Gulkana and Wolverine Glaciers: U.S. Geological Survey data release.
Available at: https://dx.doi.org/10.5066/F7HD7SRF

O'Neel, S., E. Hood, A. Arendt, and L. Sass, 2014, Assessing streamflow sensitivity to variations in glacier mass balance, Climatic Change, Vol.123, no. 2, p.329-341. doi: 10.1007/s10584-013-1042-7.
Available at: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-013-1042-7

Pewe, T.L., 1963, University of Alaska Gulkana Glacier Project, 1962, Arctic, Vol. 16, p. 46.
Available at: http://www.sciary.com/journal-scientific-arctic-article-79971

Van Beusekom, A. E., S. R. O'Neel, R. S. March, L. C. Sass, L. H. Cox, 2010, Re-analysis of Alaskan benchmark glacier mass-balance data using the index method, U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2010-5247, 14 p., Appendix.
Available at: https://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2010/5247/

Meteorological observations began in 1967 with installation of temperature and precipitation instruments near the moraine weather station. The addition and upgrading of sensors over the years have included measurement of precipitation (Sutron gauge) and new stations to directly measure lapse rates in each basin. The stations are telemetered for real time data acquisition.

Gulkana Glacier weather station
Gulkana Glacier weather station

The Gulkana weather station (latitude 63°16'N, longitude 145°25'W) is located at an altitude of 1480 m on the crest of a wind-swept, ice-cored moraine along the eastern boundary of the glacier. The station is slightly lower than the glacier's average equilibrium line altitude (ELA) and approximately 300 m from the east edge of the glacier. The average ELA is near 1,735m which is consistent with a continental mountain climate. The average annual air temperature at the recorder site is about -4 degrees Celsius(°C), and the average annual precipitation-gage catch is about 1,000 millimeters (mm). Snowfall is the dominant form of precipitation and usually accumulates on the glacier from September through mid-June. Daily average temperatures range from a low of -35°C to a high of 16°C. Daily precipitation catch can be over 100 mm.

Current data available from the Gulkana weather station (USGS 15478038) includes:

  • Cumulative Precipitation
  • Wind speed
  • Wind direction
  • Temperature, air
  • Wind gust speed

The original weather station had analogue instruments with strip-chart recorders. Daily average temperatures from that era have an accuracy of about ±1.0°C, and annual precipitation has an estimated accuracy of about ±0.005 m (Mayo and others, 1992; Kennedy, 1995). Daily precipitation records are complicated by thermal expansion of the antifreeze water solution. Starting in the late 1980's the station has been updated with progressively newer, more accurate, and more sensors.

Additional Stations

To increase the spatial distribution, two additional weather stations were placed higher in the basin in 2012 allowing researchers to directly measure lapse rates in each basin.

Nunatak weather station (Latitude 63°17'N, Longitude 145°26'W)

Nunatak is on bedrock between the main trunk and a western cirque at 1725 m. The sensors installed measure:

  • Temperature
  • Precipitation
  • Relative Humidity
  • Wind Speed
  • Wind Direction
  • Incoming and Outgoing Short-wave Radiation

Ridge-top weather station (Latitude 63°18'N, Longitude 145°24'W)

Ridge-top is north of the main trunk at 1925 m. The sensors installed measure:

  • Temperature
  • Relative Humidity
  • Wind Speed
  • Wind Direction
  • Incoming and Outgoing Short-wave Radiation

4 publications matching the specified parameters were found.

Hodge, S.M., D. C. Trabant, R. M. Krimmel, T. A. Heinrichs, R. M. March, and E. G. Josberger, 1998, Climate variations and changes in mass of three glaciers in western North America, Journal of Climate, Vol. 11, no. 9, p. 2161-2179.
Available at: http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/abs/10.1175/1520-0442%281998%29011%3C2161%3ACVACIM%3E2.0.CO%3B2

Kennedy, B.W., L. R. Mayo, D. C. Trabant, and R. S. March, 1997, Air temperature and precipitation data, Gulkana Glacier, Alaska, 1968-96, U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 97-358, 144 p.
Available at: https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/ofr97358

March, R.S., and D. C. Trabant, 1996, Mass balance, meteorological, ice motion, surface altitude, and runoff data at Gulkana Glacier, Alaska, 1992 balance year, U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 95-4277, 32 p.
Available at: https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/wri954277

March, R.S., and D. C. Trabant, 1997, Mass balance, meteorological, ice motion, surface altitude, and runoff data at Gulkana Glacier, Alaska, 1993 balance year, U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 96-4299, 30 p.
Available at: https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/wri964299

The Phelan Creek near Paxson stream gaging station, USGS station 15478040, is part of the USGS network of nearly 100 stations in Alaska. Data collection and analysis are conducted by standard techniques developed by the USGS. Daily values of discharge are available online and published annually in the USGS Water-Data report series.

Phelan Creek gage site
Phelan Creek gage site

Gulkana Gaging Station Data (USGS 15478040):

  • Stream Discharge
  • Gage Height
  • Air Temperature
  • Precipitation

Location: Latitude: 63°14'27"N, Longitude: 145°28'03"W., 1,125 m altitude, in SW 1/4 sec.28, T.19 S., R.12 E., Hydrologic Unit 19020102, on left bank about 1 km downstream from terminus of Gulkana Glacier and 23 km north of Paxson, Alaska.

Drainage Area: 32 km2

Period of Record: October 1966 to September 1978, October 1989 to September 1993, October 1994 to current year, and annual maximums, water years 1984-85. Before October 1968, published as Gulkana Creek near Paxson.
NOTE: Records are poor. The creek bed is composed of typical ground-moraine material: poorly-sorted gravel and small boulders. The channel is subject to frequent changes during high flows. Large fluctuations result from ice melt and alternate damming and storage release during melt season. Typical winter under-ice discharge is about 0.1 m3/s; typical summer discharge is about 4-20 m3/s; the period-of-record peak discharge is 65 m3/s (Linn and others, 1994). The typical minimum winter under-ice discharge is about 0.04 m3/s, which is about three to four times the average contribution from the combined geothermal melt of the bed of the glacier and melting caused by the loss of potential energy from ice motion.

4 publications matching the specified parameters were found.

March, R.S., and D. C. Trabant, 1996, Mass balance, meteorological, ice motion, surface altitude, and runoff data at Gulkana Glacier, Alaska, 1992 balance year, U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 95-4277, 32 p.
Available at: https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/wri954277

March, R.S., and D. C. Trabant, 1997, Mass balance, meteorological, ice motion, surface altitude, and runoff data at Gulkana Glacier, Alaska, 1993 balance year, U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 96-4299, 30 p.
Available at: https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/wri964299

Mayo, L.R., and D. C. Trabant, 1986, Recent growth of Gulkana Glacier, Alaska Range, and its relation to glacier-fed river runoff, U.S. Geological Survey Water-Supply Paper 2290, p. 9199.
Available at: https://pubs.usgs.gov/wsp/wsp2290/pdf/wsp_2290.pdf

O'Neel, S., E. Hood, A. Arendt, and L. Sass, 2014, Assessing streamflow sensitivity to variations in glacier mass balance, Climatic Change, Vol.123, no. 2, p.329-341. doi: 10.1007/s10584-013-1042-7.
Available at: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-013-1042-7

A dramatic example of glacier retreat: top photograph shows lower Gulkana Glacier on July 1910; bottom photograph shows view from same location on July 1952. Photos by F. Moffit and T. Péwé.
A dramatic example of glacier retreat: top photograph shows lower Gulkana Glacier on July 1910; bottom photograph shows view from same location on July 1952. Photos by F. Moffit and T. Péwé.

Measurements began on Gulkana Glacier during the early 1960's with the University of Alaska Gulkana Glacier Project (Péwé and Reger, 1983). For several years this project measured the energy budget, mass balance, meteorology, foliation, flow, and glacier bottom topography (from gravity anomalies) at Gulkana Glacier. In 1966, a continuing series of meteorological, snow and ice balance, and runoff measurements was begun by the USGS as part of the United States contribution to the International Hydrologic Decade study of mass balances on selected glaciers. Detailed results from 1966 and 1967 are reported by Meier and others (1971) and Tangborn and others (1977), respectively. Measured winter snow balances and annual balances from 1966-77 are reported by Meier and others (1980). Balance studies were relatively intensive until the mid-1970's, after which spatial sampling was reduced to three sites used as indices for mass balance. Measurements at the three remaining sites were expanded to include ice-motion and surface-altitude observations (for determining glacier-volume change) in addition to the balance, runoff, and meteorological observations already in progress.

Since 1966, part of the Gulkana data set (net balance, accumulation, ablation, accumulation area ratio (AAR), and equilibrium line altitude (ELA)) has been published by the World Glacier Monitoring Service (Kasser, 1967; Muller, 1977; Haeberli, 1985; Haeberli and Müller, 1988; Haeberli and Hoelzle, 1993). Index-site glacier-surface and summer-surface altitudes, measured winter balance, and net firn and ice balance from 1975 to 1983 are reported by Mayo and Trabant (1986). Data for 1992 and 1993 were published by March and Trabant (1996 and 1997) and for 1994 by March (1998).

Publications search

Data Summaries for Gulkana Glacier

16 publications matching the specified parameters were found.

Cox, L.H. and R. S. March, 2004, Comparison of geodetic and glaciological mass-balance techniques, Gulkana Glacier, Alaska, U.S.A., Journal of Glaciology, Vol. 50, no. 170, p. 363-370.

Kennedy, B.W., L. R. Mayo, D. C. Trabant, and R. S. March, 1997, Air temperature and precipitation data, Gulkana Glacier, Alaska, 1968-96, U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 97-358, 144 p.
Available at: https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/ofr97358

March, R.S., 1998, Mass balance, meteorological, ice motion, surface altitude, and runoff data at Gulkana Glacier, Alaska, 1994 balance year, U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 97-4251, 31 p.
Available at: https://pubs.usgs.gov/wri/1996/4299/report.pdf

March, R.S., 2000, Mass balance, meteorological, ice motion, surface altitude, runoff, and ice thickness data at Gulkana Glacier, Alaska, 1995 balance year, U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 00-4074, 33 p.
Available at: https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/wri004074

March, R.S., 2003, Mass Balance, meteorology, area altitude distribution, glacier-surface altitude, ice motion, terminus position, and runoff at Gulkana Glacier, Alaska, 1996 balance year, U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 03-4095, 33 p.
Available at: https://pubs.usgs.gov/wri/wri034095/pdf/wrir.03-4095.pdf

March, R.S., and D. C. Trabant, 1996, Mass balance, meteorological, ice motion, surface altitude, and runoff data at Gulkana Glacier, Alaska, 1992 balance year, U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 95-4277, 32 p.
Available at: https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/wri954277

March, R.S., and D. C. Trabant, 1997, Mass balance, meteorological, ice motion, surface altitude, and runoff data at Gulkana Glacier, Alaska, 1993 balance year, U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 96-4299, 30 p.
Available at: https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/wri964299

March, R.S., and S. O'Neel, 2011, Gulkana Glacier, Alaska—Mass balance, meteorology, and water measurements, 1997-2001, U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2011-5046, 72 p.
Available at: https://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2011/5046/

Mayo, L.R., and D. C. Trabant, 1986, Recent growth of Gulkana Glacier, Alaska Range, and its relation to glacier-fed river runoff, U.S. Geological Survey Water-Supply Paper 2290, p. 9199.
Available at: https://pubs.usgs.gov/wsp/wsp2290/pdf/wsp_2290.pdf

Mayo, L.R., and T. L. Pewe, 1963, Ablation and net total radiation, Gulkana Glacier, Alaska, chapter 43 in Ice and snow---Properties, processes, and application, Conference, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1962, Proceedings: Cambridge, Mass., M.I.T. Press, p. 633-643.

Meier, M.F., W. V. Tangborn, L. R. Mayo, and A. Post, 1971, Combined ice and water balances of Gulkana and Wolverine Glaciers, Alaska, and South Cascade Glacier, Washington, 1965 and 1966 hydrologic years, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 715-A, 23 p., 6 pl.
Available at: https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/pp715A

Ostenso, N.A., P. V. Sellmann, and T. L. Pewe, 1965, The bottom topography of Gulkana Glacier, Alaska Range, Journal of Glaciology, v. 5, no. 41, p. 651-660.

Pewe, T.L., 1961, University of Alaska Gulkana Glacier Expedition, 1960, Arctic, Vol. 14, p. 74-75.
Available at: http://www.sciary.com/journal-scientific-arctic-article-79971

Pewe, T.L., 1963, University of Alaska Gulkana Glacier Project, 1962, Arctic, Vol. 16, p. 46.
Available at: http://www.sciary.com/journal-scientific-arctic-article-79971

Takeuchi, Nozomu, 2009, Temporal and spatial variations in spectral reflectance and characteristics of surface dust on Gulkana Glacier, Alaska Range, Journal of Glaciology, Vol. 55, no. 192, p. 701-709.
Available at: http://www-es.s.chiba-u.ac.jp/~takeuchi/pdf/09jg_GUspec.pdf

Tangborn, W.V., L. R. Mayo, D. R. Scully, and R. M. Krimmel, 1977, Combined ice and water balances of Maclure Glacier, California, South Cascade Glacier, Washington, and Wolverine and Gulkana Glaciers, Alaska, 1967 Hydrologic Year, U.S. Geological Survey Prof. Paper 715-B, 20 p., 4 pl.
Available at: https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/pp715B

Northern Lights over our camp, April 2015
Northern Lights over our camp, April 2015
Headed down glacier on a snowy afternoon, April 2015
Headed down glacier on a snowy afternoon, April 2015
Typical stake on the Alaska glaciers, April 2015
Typical stake on the Alaska glaciers, April 2015
We dig snow-pits to measure snow thickness and density, April 2015
We dig snow-pits to measure snow thickness and density, April 2015
Taking a snow sample, April 2015
Taking a snow sample, April 2015
Weighing a snow sample, April 2015
Weighing a snow sample, April 2015
Lunar eclipse over Icefall Peak, April 2014
Lunar eclipse over Icefall Peak, April 2014
Northern Lights over the cabin, April 2014
Northern Lights over the cabin, April 2014
This is our radar system that we use to measure snow thickness, April 2014
This is our radar system that we use to measure snow thickness, April 2014
Digging a snow-pit, April 2014
Digging a snow-pit, April 2014
Using GPS to survey ablation stakes, April 2014
Using GPS to survey ablation stakes, April 2014
GPS survey of an ablation stake, April 2014
GPS survey of an ablation stake, April 2014
Driving the radar system across the upper glacier, April 2014
Driving the radar system across the upper glacier, April 2014
Pinnacles near Mt. Gakona, April 2014
Pinnacles near Mt. Gakona, April 2014

Photos by Louis Sass, USGS

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