Impact of dust deposition on the albedo of Vatnajökull ice cap, Iceland

Monika Wittmann*, Christine Dorothea Groot Zwaaftink, Louise Steffensen Schmidt, Sverrir Gumundsson, Finnur Pálsson, Olafur Arnalds, Helgi Björnsson, Throstur Thorsteinsson, Andreas Stohl, Sverrir Guðmundsson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


Deposition of small amounts of airborne dust on glaciers causes positive radiative forcing and enhanced melting due to the reduction of surface albedo. To study the effects of dust deposition on the mass balance of Brúarjökull, an outlet glacier of the largest ice cap in Iceland, Vatnajökull, a study of dust deposition events in the year 2012 was carried out. The dust-mobilisation module FLEXDUST was used to calculate spatio-temporally resolved dust emissions from Iceland and the dispersion model FLEXPART was used to simulate atmospheric dust dispersion and deposition. We used albedo measurements at two automatic weather stations on Brúarjökull to evaluate the dust impacts. Both stations are situated in the accumulation area of the glacier, but the lower station is close to the equilibrium line. For this site (∼ 1210ma.s.l.), the dispersion model produced 10 major dust deposition events and a total annual deposition of 20.5gm-2. At the station located higher on the glacier (∼ 1525ma.s.l.), the model produced nine dust events, with one single event causing ∼ 5gm-2 of dust deposition and a total deposition of ∼ 10gm-2yr-1. The main dust source was found to be the Dyngjusandur floodplain north of Vatnajökull; northerly winds prevailed 80% of the time at the lower station when dust events occurred. In all of the simulated dust events, a corresponding albedo drop was observed at the weather stations. The influence of the dust on the albedo was estimated using the regional climate model HIRHAM5 to simulate the albedo of a clean glacier surface without dust. By comparing the measured albedo to the modelled albedo, we determine the influence of dust events on the snow albedo and the surface energy balance. We estimate that the dust deposition caused an additional 1.1mw.e. (water equivalent) of snowmelt (or 42% of the 2.8mw.e. total melt) compared to a hypothetical clean glacier surface at the lower station, and 0.6mw.e. more melt (or 38% of the 1.6mw.e. melt in total) at the station located further upglacier. Our findings show that dust has a strong influence on the mass balance of glaciers in Iceland.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)741-754
Number of pages14
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 23 Mar 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Author(s).

Other keywords

  • Vatnajökull
  • Bráðnun (jöklafræði)
  • Svifryk
  • Jöklarannsóknir


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