Earth's Future, Volume 10, Issue 4

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American Geophysical Union (AGU)
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Fire and Ice: The Impact of Wildfire‐Affected Albedo and Irradiance on Glacier Melt
Caroline Aubry‐Wake | André Bertoncini | John W. Pomeroy | Caroline Aubry‐Wake | André Bertoncini | John W. Pomeroy

Wildfire occurrence and severity is predicted to increase in the upcoming decades with severe negative impacts on human societies. The impacts of upwind wildfire activity on glacier melt, a critical source of freshwater for downstream environments, were investigated through analysis of field and remote sensing observations and modeling experiments for the 2015–2020 melt seasons at the well-instrumented Athabasca Glacier in the Canadian Rockies. Upwind wildfire activity influenced surface glacier melt through both a decrease in the surface albedo from deposition of soot on the glacier and through the impact of smoke on atmospheric conditions above the glacier. Athabasca Glacier on-ice weather station observations show days with dense smoke were warmer than clear, non-smoky days, and sustained a reduction in surface shortwave irradiance of 103 W m−2 during peak shortwave irradiance and an increase in longwave irradiance of 10 W m−2, producing an average 15 W m−2 decrease in net radiation. Albedo observed on-ice gradually decreased after the wildfires started, from a summer average of 0.29 in 2015 before the wildfires to as low as 0.16 in 2018 after extensive wildfires and remained low for two more melt seasons without substantial upwind wildfires. Reduced all-wave irradiance partly compensated for the increase in melt due to lowered albedo in those seasons when smoke was detected above Athabasca Glacier. In melt seasons without smoke, the suppressed albedo increased melt by slightly more than 10% compared to the simulations without fire-impacted albedo, increasing melt by 0.42 m. w.e. in 2019 and 0.37 m. w.e. in 2020.