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Cryosphere: ice on Niwot Ridge and in the Green Lakes Valley, Colorado Front Range, 2015

Leopold, M., Lewis, G., Dethier, D., Caine, N., Williams, M. W.

Plant Ecology and Diversity :1-14
DOI: 10.1080/17550874.2014.992489
1755-0874, 1755-1668


Background: Subsurface ice preserved as ice lenses and within rock glaciers as well as glacial and lake ice provides sensitive indicators of climate change and serve as a late-season source of meltwater.
Aims: We synthesise the results of geomorphological, geophysical and geochemical studies during the period of 1995–2014, building on a long history of earlier work focused on ice and permafrost studies on Niwot Ridge and the adjacent Green Lakes Valley (GLV), which is part of the Niwot Ridge Long-term Ecological Research Site.

Methods: These studies are discussed in the context of how bodies of ice and rock glaciers reflect changing local climate. We review recent results from geophysical investigations (resistivity, seismic refraction and ground-penetrating radar) of the shallow subsurface, ongoing monitoring of the Arikaree Glacier, three rock glaciers and lake ice in the GLV, and interpretations of how subsurface ice melt regulates the flow and chemistry of alpine surface water after seasonal snowfields melt.

Results and conclusions: Permafrost conditions reported from Niwot Ridge in the 1970s are generally absent today, but ice lenses form and melt seasonally. Ice is present permanently within the Green Lakes 5 rock glacier and at nearby favourable sites. The Arikaree Glacier has shown a marked decline in cumulative mass balance during the past 12 years after a 30-year period when net mass balance was ca. 0. Duration of seasonal lake ice increases with elevation in GLV, but duration has decreased at all seven lakes that have been monitored during the last three decades. This decrease has been most marked at the lowest elevation where it amounted to a reduction of about 1 d year−1 and least at Green Lake 5 where the loss has been at a rate of 0.5 d year−1. Surface temperature measurements from rock glaciers have not shown strong trends during the past 15 years. It has been suggested that almost all of the 2.5-mm year−1 increase in stream discharge from the upper GLV in September and October has been derived from melting of subsurface ice. 


Arikaree Glacier; climate change; Green Lakes Valley; ice; Niwot Ridge; permafrost; rock glacier 

Associated Niwot LTER Researchers:

Related Field Location(s):

ArikareeGreen Lakes ValleyNiwot Ridge

Related Data by Discipline(s):



Leopold, M., Lewis, G., Dethier, D., Caine, N., Williams, M. W., (2015) Cryosphere: ice on Niwot Ridge and in the Green Lakes Valley, Colorado Front Range. Plant Ecology and Diversity :1-14 , DOI: 10.1080/17550874.2014.992489 1755-0874, 1755-1668,

CU Boulder

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Cooperative Agreement #DEB-1637686. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necesarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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