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Firn densification in the accumulation zone of Kaskawulsh Glacier, Yukon Territory, Canada
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  • Naomi Ochwat,
  • Shawn Marshall,
  • Brian Moorman,
  • Alison Criscitiello
Naomi Ochwat
University of Calgary

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Shawn Marshall
Univ Calgary
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Brian Moorman
University of Calgary
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Alison Criscitiello
University of Alberta
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As sources of fresh water and critical components of the global climate system, terrestrial glaciers are important features to monitor, particularly in light of anthropogenic climate change. Remote sensing techniques are being increasingly used to gather information on Earth’s shrinking complex glacial terrains. However, these methods possess critical challenges, including capturing firn dynamics and the presence of ice lenses. Meltwater percolation and retention, as well as thermodynamic effects on snow and firn density can complicate the relationship between surface height and mass balance changes; lowering of the glacier surface may masquerade as a mass change as detected by remote sensing technologies. The St. Elias Mountains, straddling the border between Yukon Territory, Canada and Alaska, USA, are home to extensive icefields. While numerous mass balance studies have been conducted in this region using remote sensing, there is a significant lack of in situ measurements of accumulation zone processes and firn properties. Our research examines refrozen ice layers and firn densification processes in the accumulation zone of Kaskawulsh Glacier in the St. Elias Mountains. In spring 2018, we extracted two firn cores (20 m and 35 m) from the study area and conducted a snow stratigraphy and ice lens survey on both core sections. After subsampling and melting the cores, we analyzed major ion and isotope chronology to identify extreme meltwater percolation and refreezing events, both of which critically affect firn density. The snow stratigraphy analysis from both of the cores showed numerous refrozen ice layers, indicating surface melt and refreezing processes in the accumulation zone. Preliminary results from isotope chronology analysis reveal a wash-out of the glaciochemical pattern in the 35 m and the 20 m ice core at 15 m depth, thus indicating severe surface warming events and subsequent changes in the density of the firn. This may indicate errors in the assumed density of the accumulation zone snow and firn when using remote sensing technologies to infer mass balance of Kaskawulsh Glacier.