This page highlights some of the excellent teaching resources available for exploring glacier mass balance.
For more ideas, see the Resources for Teachers page.
Case study: USGS Benchmark Glaciers
The USGS has an excellent resource on the mass balance of Lemon Creek Glacier, a World Reference Glacier, and the other USGS Benchmark Glaciers.
This has resulted in a publication showing a reanalysis of the USGS Benchmark Glaciers (O’Neel et al., 2019). Point data were collected at each glacier over many years. These point datasets allow glacier-wide mass balance to be calculated. The full datasets are rather complicated, probably too much so for post-16 education, but the “Glacier-wide solutions” spreadsheets could be used to calculate glacier mass balance from annual winter and summer balances.
The data are available for download from the Alaska Science Centre.
I have produced some summary sheets and teaching resources that can be used with this dataset to understand glacier mass balance.
First, watch the video on Changing Glaciers:
The Summary Sheet gives the key points to remember about glacier mass balance.
The activity below guides students to explore the 5 USGS Benchmark Glaciers and their changing mass balance over time.
Students could also use the dataset from the WGMS to plot cumulative glacier mass balance over time.
World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS)
The World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) provides a host of resources for the reference glaciers monitored for mass balance.
There are annual mass balance reports, and these are presented with some clear graphics showing cumulative glacier mass balance.
WGMS Glacier Browser
The WGMS have produced a browser where you can view the mass balance records of different reference glaciers. The map is based on ArcGIS Online and allows students to explore reference glaciers worldwide.
The numbers in the circules highlight the number of types of measurement and glaciers in each area. As you zoom in, you can click through the individual glaciers and see a graph of mass balance observations, surges, and front variations over time.
This resource allows you to explore observations on glaciers worldwide, and examine the dataset easily to see if glaciers really are receding.
Raw mass balance data
These data are all available in the following publication:
WGMS (2020, updated, and earlier reports). Global Glacier Change Bulletin No. 3 (2016-2017). Zemp, M., Gärtner-Roer, I., Nussbaumer, S. U., Bannwart, J., Rastner, P., Paul, F., and Hoelzle, M. (eds.), ISC(WDS)/IUGG(IACS)/UNEP/UNESCO/WMO, World Glacier Monitoring Service, Zurich, Switzerland, 274 pp., publication based on database version: doi:10.5904/wgms-fog-2019-12.
The WGMS provides mass balance data, which could be used by students to plot as graphs or as data: https://wgms.ch/latest-glacier-mass-balance-data/. You can also download and explore the full database.
Case study: Bahia del Diablo, Vega Island, Antarctic Peninsula
An example of a student exercise could be to look at the Mass Balance Point data for a single year for a single glacier from the WGMS dataset, and plot elevation against balance for each point. Students could then plot a graph of elevation against mass balance and get the mass balance gradient through time. These are plotted in the WGMS Bulletin for comparison.
An example could be Glaciar Bahia del Diablo on Vega Island on the Antarctic Peninsula. This is a reference glacier that has been monitored since 2009.
Glaciar del Diablo is on the northern side of the island, and is a land-terminating glacier.
Using the mass balance point data from the WGMS, students could attempt to plot the net balance for each point over certain years.
OGGM Glacier Simulator
You can explore more about glacier mass balance using the OGGM Glacier Simulator.
This is an interactive web application that allows you to learn about how glaciers flow, shrink and grow, and what parameters influence their size.
The webpage has information and guided tutorials.
O’Neel, S., McNeil, C., Sass, L., Florentine, C., Baker, E., Peitzsch, E., . . . Fagre, D. (2019). Reanalysis of the US Geological Survey Benchmark Glaciers: Long-term insight into climate forcing of glacier mass balance. Journal of Glaciology,65(253), 850-866. doi:10.1017/jog.2019.66
WGMS (2019): Fluctuations of Glaciers Database. World Glacier Monitoring Service, Zurich, Switzerland. DOI:10.5904/wgms-fog-2019-12. Online access: http://dx.doi.org/10.5904/wgms-fog-2019-12
WGMS 2020. Global Glacier Change Bulletin No. 3 (2016-2017). Zemp, M., Gärtner-Roer, I., Nussbaumer, S. U., Bannwart, J., Rastner, P., Paul, F., and Hoelzle, M. (eds.), ISC(WDS)/IUGG(IACS)/UNEP/UNESCO/WMO, World Glacier Monitoring Service, Zurich, Switzerland, 274 pp., publication based on database version: doi:10.5904/wgms-fog-2019-12. PDF (20 MB)