Mass Balance teaching resources

This page highlights some of the excellent teaching resources available for exploring glacier mass balance.

For more ideas, see the Resources for Teachers page.

World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS)

The World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) provides a host of resources for the reference glaciers monitored for mass balance.

World Glacier Monitoring Service

There are annual mass balance reports, and these are presented with some clear graphics showing cumulative glacier mass balance.

Annual mass balance of reference glaciers with more than 30 years of ongoing glaciological measurements. From the WGMS
Global_Cum_MB
Cumulative mass change of reference glaciers. Cumulative values relative to 1976 are given. From the WGMS.

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.

WGMS Fluctuations of Glaciers Browser

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.

James Ross Island and Vega Island, northern Antarctic Peninsula.

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.

Net balance versus altitude from Glaciar Bahia del Diablo. WGMS 2020

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.

USGS Lemon Creek Glacier

The USGS has an excellent resource on the mass balance of Lemon Creek Glacier, a World Reference Glacier.

Lemon Creek Glacier, Alaska

This has resulted in a publication showing a reanalysis fo 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 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.

Students could also use the dataset from the WGMS to plot glacier mass balance gradients over time.

References

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)