A review of volume-area scaling of glaciers

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Volume-area power law scaling, one of a set of analytical scaling techniques based on principals of dimensional analysis, has become an increasingly important and widely used method for estimating the future response of the world’s glaciers and ice caps to environmental change. Over 60 papers since 1988 have been published in the glaciological and environmental change literature containing applications of volume-area scaling, mostly for the purpose of estimating total global glacier and ice cap volume and modeling future contributions to sea level rise from glaciers and ice caps. The application of the theory is not entirely straightforward, however, and many of the recently published results contain analyses that are in conflict with the theory as originally described by Bahr et al. (1997). In this review we describe the general theory of scaling for glaciers in full three-dimensional detail without simplifications, including an improved derivation of both the volume-area scaling exponent γ and a new derivation of the multiplicative scaling parameter c. We discuss some common misconceptions of the theory, presenting examples of both appropriate and inappropriate applications. We also discuss potential future developments in power law scaling beyond its present uses, the relationship between power law scaling and other modeling approaches, and some of the advantages and limitations of scaling techniques.

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