Glaciers in Svalbard: mass balance, runoff and freshwater flux



Gain or loss of the freshwater stored in Svalbard glaciers has both global implications for sea level and, on a more local scale, impacts upon the hydrology of rivers and the freshwater flux to fjords. This paper gives an overview of the potential runoff from the Svalbard glaciers. The freshwater flux from basins of different scales is quantified. In small basins (A < 10 km2), the extra runoff due to the negative mass balance of the glaciers is related to the proportion of glacier cover and can at present yield more than 20% higher runoff than if the glaciers were in equilibrium with the present climate. This does not apply generally to the ice masses of Svalbard, which are mostly much closer to being in balance. The total surface runoff from Svalbard glaciers due to melting of snow and ice is roughly 25 ± 5 km3 a−1, which corresponds to a specific runoff of 680 ± 140 mm a−1, only slightly more than the annual snow accumulation. Calving of icebergs from Svalbard glaciers currently contributes significantly to the freshwater flux and is estimated to be 4 ± 1 km3 a−1 or about 110 mm a−1.