Researcher ORCID Identifier


Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Eric Grosfils

Reader 2

Sarah Kavassalis

Reader 3

Paula Perilla-Castillo

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© 2024 Vijay A Jain


Small, alpine glaciers, such as those in the Sierra Nevada, are difficult to study because of their small size and remoteness, however, they are important recorders of the impacts of climate change in temperate, alpine environments. Previous studies have attempted to characterize the health of these glaciers using extent change techniques, but these methodologies can only roughly approximate the rudimentary measurement of changing ice volume. This thesis uses the Airborne Snow Observatory Inc.’s (ASO’s) aerial lidar snow depth datasets to perform a mass balance calculation for the Palisade Glacier over the remarkable 2022-2023 water year (October 1 through September 30), as a test case for the general application of the ASO datasets to the study of Sierran glaciers. ASO snow depth data were separately combined with an energy balance (iSnobal) and a long-term climatological-regression snow density model for comparison of different snow water equivalent (SWE) outputs. During the melt season, ASO snow depth data were unavailable, so a temperature-index model was used to melt the snowpack. I find that a combination of the iSnobal density model with a 2.41 millimeters of water equivalent (mm w.e.)/°C/day degree-day factor (DDF) temperature-index model produces the most realistic final snowpack state when compared to Sentinel-2 satellite imagery. With this method, the Palisade Glacier had a mean mass balance of +1.04 m w.e. over the 2022-2023 water year. Uncertainty exists in the present thesis’ methodology, particularly in the nature of the melt modeling, which melts the entire glacier homogeneously. Ways to minimize this and other uncertainties when applying this technique in future studies are discussed. This thesis lays important groundwork for, and shows the potential of, using ASO snow depth data to track the health of small, alpine glaciers.