First Advisor

Andrew G. Fountain

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Geography






Glaciers -- Climatic factors -- Sierra Nevada (Calif. and Nev.) -- 20th century, Climatic changes -- Sierra Nevada (Calif. and Nev.) -- 20th century, Climatic changes, Glaciers -- Climatic factors



Physical Description

1 online resource (114 p.)


Numerous small alpine glaciers occupy the high elevation regions of the central and southern Siena Nevada, California. These glaciers change size in response to variations in climate and are therefore important indicators of climate change. An inventory based on USGS topographic maps (l :24,000) revealed 1719 glaciers and perennial snow and ice features for a total area of 39.l5 ±7.52 km2. The number of 'true' glaciers, versus non-moving ice, is estimated to be 118, covering 15.87 ± 1.69 Km2. All glaciers were located on north to northeast aspects, at elevations >3000 m. Historical photographs, geologic evidence, and field mapping were used to determine the magnitude of area loss over the past century at 14 glaciers. These glaciers decreased in area by 31% to 78%, averaging 55%. The rate of area change was determined for multiple time periods for a subset of seven glaciers. Rapid retreat occurred over the first half of the twentieth century beginning in the 1920s in response to warm/dry conditions and continued through the mid-1970s. Recession ceased during the early 1980s, when some glaciers advanced. Since the 1980s each of the seven study glaciers resumed retreat.

The uniform timing of changes in area amongst study glaciers suggests a response to regional climate, while the magnitude of change is influenced by local topographic effects. Glacier area changes correlate with changes in spring and summer air temperatures. Winter precipitation is statistically unrelated to changes in glacier area. Headwall cliffs above the glaciers alter the glacier responses by reducing incoming shortwave radiation and enhancing snow accumulation via avalanching.


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