Modelling regional glacier length changes over the last millennium using the Open Global Glacier Model

Parkes, David; Goosse, Hugues

A large majority of the direct observational record for glacier changes falls within the industrial period, from the 19th century onward, associated with global glacier retreat. Given this availability of data and the significant focus in contemporary glacier modelling falling on recent retreat, glacier models are typically calibrated using – and validated with – only observations of glaciers that are considerably out of equilibrium. In order to develop a broader picture of the skill of one glacier model – the Open Global Glacier Model (OGGM) – we model glaciers for extended historical timescales of 850–2004 CE using a selection of six general circulation model (GCM) outputs. We select glaciers for which long-term length observations are available in order to compare these observations with the model results, and we find glaciers with such observations in almost all glacierised regions globally. In many regions, the mean modelled glacier changes are consistent with observations, with recent observed retreat in these regions typically at the steeper end of the range of modelled retreats. However, on the scale of individual glaciers, performance of the model is worse, with overall correlation between observed and modelled retreat weak for all of the GCM datasets used to force the model. We also model the same set of glaciers using modified climate time series from each of the six GCMs that keep temperature or precipitation constant, testing the impact of each individually. Temperature typically explains considerably more variance in glacier lengths than precipitation, but results suggest that the interaction between the two is also significant within OGGM and neither can be seen as a simple proxy for glacier length changes. OGGM proves capable of reproducing recent observational trends on at least a qualitative level in many regions, with a modelling period over a considerably larger timescale than it is calibrated for. Prospects are good for more widespread use of OGGM for timescales extending to the pre-industrial period, where glaciers were typically larger and experience less rapid (and less globally consistent) geometry changes, but additional calibration will be required in order to have confidence in the magnitude of modelled changes, particularly on the scale of individual glaciers.

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Parkes, David / Goosse, Hugues: Modelling regional glacier length changes over the last millennium using the Open Global Glacier Model. 2020. Copernicus Publications.

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