Glaciers and Climate Project

Wolverine Glacier

Map showing the location of the Wolverine Glacier

Elevation Range: Approximately 450—1680 meters
Location: Latitude: 60°25'15.64"N, Longitude: 148°51'34.89"W
Area: 16.2 km2

Checking ablation stakes on Wolverine Glacier
Checking ablation stakes on Wolverine Glacier

Wolverine Glacier is in the Kenai Mountains on the coast of south-central Alaska. The climate is maritime, characterized by low temperature variability and heavy, regular precipitation. Wolverine Glacier has a southerly aspect, with a narrow terminus at 450 m and a broad head up to 1680 m. In 2011 the Glacier was approximately 7 km long, and encompassed an area of 16.2 km2 in its 24.5 km2 basin (Van Beusekom and others, 2010).

In 1966 scientists with the USGS began making direct measurements of surface mass balance at Wolverine Glacier, one of two "benchmark glaciers" in Alaska. Repeated measurements at three long-term "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 to understand the glacier's response to climate change.

Research

Wolverine Glacier map with research sites and 1979/2011 extent
Wolverine Glacier map with research sites and 1979/2011 extent

In 1966 the U.S. Geological Survey began direct measurements of surface mass balance at Wolverine Glacier (Mayo et al, 2003). After a decade of dense spatial sampling the measurements were reduced to three "index" sites distributed across the elevation range of the 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 snow 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


Ablation stakes are often extended in mid-winter at Wolverine glacier due to the high accumulation rates
Ablation stakes are often extended in mid-winter at Wolverine glacier due to the high accumulation rates

7 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.
Available at: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/igsoc/jog/2013/00000059/00000217/art00010

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.
Available at: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/igsoc/agl/2009/00000050/00000050/art00004

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.
Available at: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/igsoc/agl/2007/00000046/00000001/art00043

Mayo, L.R., D. C. Trabant, and R. S. March, 2004, A 30-Year Record of Surface Mass Balance (1966-95), and Motion and Surface Altitude (1975-95) at Wolverine Glacier, Alaska, U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2004-1069, 105 p.
Available at: http://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/ofr20041069

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., 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

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: http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2010/5247/

Weather station at Wolverine Glacier, AK
Weather station at Wolverine Glacier, AK

Meteorological observations began in 1967 with installation of temperature and precipitation instruments. Today the stations are telemetered, and near real-time values of temperature (with both passive and actively ventilated shields), relative humidity, year-round precipitation (with known compromises in measuring snow), wind speed and direction, and solar radiation are publicly available. Recent changes to the program include installing modern precipitation gauges (Sutron) and installing new stations to directly measure lapse rates in each basin.

Current data available from the Wolverine weather station (USGS 15236895) includes:

  • Cumulative Precipitation
  • Temperature, air

Instrument Site and Climate Description

The Wolverine weather station (60°23' N, 148°55' W) is located at an altitude of 990 meters (m) on a tundra knoll along the western boundary of the basin. The station is slightly lower than the glacier's average equilibrium line altitude and approximately 500 m from the west edge of the glacier. The average annual air temperature at the recorder site is about -1.0 degree Celsius(°C), and the average annual precipitation-gage catch is about 1,100 millimeters (mm) (recorded annual precipitation catch represents approximately 33 percent of actual annual basin precipitation due to the low catch efficiency for snowfall). 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 -25°C to a high of 15°C. Daily precipitation catch can be over 110 mm.

Additional weather stations, like this ridgetop station, help scientists measure the spatial differences in climate that influence mass balance of glaciers
Additional weather stations, like this ridgetop station, help scientists measure the spatial differences in climate that influence mass balance of glaciers

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 (Mayo, March, and Trabant, 1992; Kennedy, 1995). Daily precipitation records are complicated by thermal expansion of the antifreeze water solution. The annual precipitation record represents approximately 33 percent of actual annual basin precipitation due to limited catch efficiency during snowfall (Mayo and others, 1992). Starting in the late 1980's the station has been updated with progressively newer, more accurate, and more sensors.

Ridge-Top climate station

An additional weather station was installed at higher elevation in 2012. The ridge-top weather station (60°24' N, 148°57' W) is ~1 km west of the glacier at 1420 m. Measurements at this site include:

  • Temperature (daily values available online)
  • Relative Humidity
  • Wind Speed
  • Wind Direction
  • Radiation ( incoming & outgoing, shortwave & longwave)

5 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., 1995, Air temperature and precipitation data, Wolverine Glacier basin, Alaska, 1967-94, U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 95-444, 79 p. + diskette.
Available at: http://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/ofr95444

Mayo, L.R., and R.S. March, 1990, Air temperature and precipitation at Wolverine Glacier, Alaska glacier growth in a warmer, wetter climate, Annals of Glaciology, Vol. 14, p. 191-194.

Mayo, L.R., R. S. March, and D. C. Trabant, 1992, Air temperature and precipitation data, 1967-88, Wolverine Glacier basin, Alaska, U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 91-246, 80 p.
Available at: http://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/ofr91246

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: http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2010/5247/

Wolverine Creek
Wolverine Creek

The "Wolverine Creek near Lawing" stream-gaging station, USGS station 15236900, 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 reported in annual publications of the USGS Water-Data Report series.

Wolverine gaging station (USGS 15236900):

  • Stream Discharge
  • Gage Height
  • Air Temperature
  • Precipitation

Location: Latitude 60°22'14"N., Longitude 148°53'48"W., 370 m altitude, in NE 1/4 sec.10, T.3 N., R.3 E., Hydrologic Unit 19020202, on left bank about 0.15 km downstream from terminus of Wolverine Glacier and 25 km east of Lawing, Alaska.

Drainage area: 24.5 km2

Period of record: October 1966 to September 1978, October 1980 to September 1981, May 1997 to September 1997, October 2000 to current.

NOTE: Records are poor. The creek bed is composed of poorly-sorted gravel and small boulders. The channel is subject to frequent changes during high flows. Large fluctuations from ice melt and alternative damming and storage release during the melt season.

Typical summer mean daily discharge is about 9 m3/s; the period-of-record instantaneous peak discharge was 51 m3/s on August 21, 1981 (Benson and others, 1998).

Measurements began on Wolverine Glacier in 1966 resulting in many reports and analysis among other benchmark glaciers. Detailed results from 1966 and 1967 are reported by Meier and others (1971) and Tangborn and others (1977), respectively. Ice and water balances for 1965/66 hydrologic years are reported by Meier et al. (1971). Measured winter snow balances and annual balances from 1966-77 are reported by Meier and others (1980).

Since 1966, part of the Wolverine 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). Air temperature and precipitation data for 1967-1988 were published by Mayo, March and Trabant (1992) and summarized by Mayo and March (1990) and for 1994 by March (1998).

Researchers use ground penetrating radar to determine the depth of the snow on Wolverine Glacier, April 23, 2015.
Researchers use ground penetrating radar to determine the depth of the snow on Wolverine Glacier, April 23, 2015.
Wolverine weather station collects weather data near the glacier to aid mass balance research, Sept. 6, 2014.
Wolverine weather station collects weather data near the glacier to aid mass balance research, Sept. 6, 2014.
Researcher traverses Wolverine Glacier on skis.
Researcher traverses Wolverine Glacier on skis.
Late June visit to Wolverine Glacier reveals crevasses along the glacier's surface,  June 29, 2014.
Late June visit to Wolverine Glacier reveals crevasses along the glacier's surface, June 29, 2014.
The crevassed surface of Wolverine Glacier shows layers within the ice and snow, June 29, 2014.
The crevassed surface of Wolverine Glacier shows layers within the ice and snow, June 29, 2014.
Repairs and upgrades are made to the ridge-top weather station at Wolverine Glacier, June 27, 2014.
Repairs and upgrades are made to the ridge-top weather station at Wolverine Glacier, June 27, 2014.
Research station at Wolverine Glacier serves as gear storage and home base during extended research trips.
Research station at Wolverine Glacier serves as gear storage and home base during extended research trips.
A long day of field work on Wolverine Glacier begins at the research station.
A long day of field work on Wolverine Glacier begins at the research station.
Seasonal snow still covers most of the glacier's surface near the research station, May 8, 2013.
Seasonal snow still covers most of the glacier's surface near the research station, May 8, 2013.
Up high on the ridge above the east side of Wolverine Glacier.
Up high on the ridge above the east side of Wolverine Glacier.
Maintenance at the ridge-top weather station.
Maintenance at the ridge-top weather station.
Measuring an ablation stake.
Measuring an ablation stake.

Photos by Louis Sass, USGS

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Page Last Modified: Friday, December 16, 2016