Multi-decadal glacier surface lowering in the Antarctic Peninsula



[1] From approximately 400 glaciers of the western Antarctic Peninsula, no in situ records of mass balance exist and their recent contribution to sea level is consequently poorly constrained. We seek to address this shortcoming by using surface elevations from USGS and BAS airborne (1948–2005) and ASTER spaceborne (2001–2010) stereo imagery, combined by using a rigorous semi-automated registration approach, to determine multi-decadal glacier surface elevation changes in the western Antarctic Peninsula for 12 glaciers. All observed glaciers show near-frontal surface lowering and an annual mean lowering rate of 0.28 ± 0.03 m/yr at the lower portion of the glaciers during the ∼4 decades following the mid-1960s, with higher rates for the glaciers in the north-west parts of the Antarctic Peninsula. Increased lowering of up to 0.6 m/yr can be observed since the 1990s, in close correspondence to increased atmospheric positive degree days. In all cases, surface lowering reduces to zero within 5 km of the glacier front at around 400 m altitude. This lowering may have been at least partially compensated for by increased high-altitude accumulation.