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Alex S. Gardner
Martin J. Sharp
Roy M. Koerner
Claude Labine
Sarah Boon
Shawn J. Marshall
David O. Burgess
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David Lewis


Distributed glacier surface melt models are often forced using air temperature fields that are either downscaled from climate models or reanalysis, or extrapolated from station measurements. Typically, the downscaling and/or extrapolation are performed using a constant temperature lapse rate, which is often taken to be the free-air moist adiabatic lapse rate (MALR: 6°–7°C km−1). To explore the validity of this approach, the authors examined altitudinal gradients in daily mean air temperature along six transects across four glaciers in the Canadian high Arctic. The dataset includes over 58 000 daily averaged temperature measurements from 69 sensors covering the period 1988–2007. Temperature lapse rates near glacier surfaces vary on both daily and seasonal time scales, are consistently lower than the MALR (ablation season mean: 4.9°C km−1), and exhibit strong regional covariance. A significant fraction of the daily variability in lapse rates is associated with changes in free-atmospheric temperatures (higher temperatures = lower lapse rates). The temperature fields generated by downscaling point location summit elevation temperatures to the glacier surface using temporally variable lapse rates are a substantial improvement over those generated using the static MALR. These findings suggest that lower near-surface temperature lapse rates can be expected under a warming climate and that the air temperature near the glacier surface is less sensitive to changes in the temperature of the free atmosphere than is generally assumed.

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