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Front. Earth Sci. | doi: 10.3389/feart.2018.00218

Mass-budget anomalies and geometry signals of three Austrian glaciers

  • 1Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Germany
  • 2Austrian Academy of Sciences, Austria
  • 3University of Innsbruck, Austria
  • 4Uppsala University, Sweden
  • 5Technical University of Munich, Germany

Glacier mass-budget monitoring documents climate fluctuations, provides context for observed glacier-geometry changes, and can provide information on the glaciers’ states. We examine the mass-budget series and available geometries of three well-documented glaciers located in the same catchment area less than 10 kilometers from one another in the Austrian Ötztal Alps. The altitudinal profiles of the 1981–2010 average specific mass budgets of each glacier serve as climatic reference. We apply these reference mass-budget profiles on all available glacier geometries, thereby retrieving for each glacier reference-climate mass budgets that reveal in a discrete way each glacier’s geometry adjustment over time and its impact on mass loss; interpolation of the reference-climate mass budgets over the 1981–2010 period provides the glaciers’ geometry signals. The geometric mass-budget anomalies derived with respect to these geometry signals indicate decreasing mass budgets over the 1981–2010 period by 0.020 m water equivalent (w.e.) a−2, or 31 % additional mass loss compared to the centered anomalies derived with respect to the 1981–2010 averages of the conventional mass-budget series.
Reference-climate mass budgets with respect to 1981–2010 of older geometries highlight Hintereisferner’s adapting geometry by almost continuous retreat since 1850. Further retreat is inevitable as Hintereisferner is the furthest from a steady state amongst the three glaciers. The relatively small Kesselwandferner has been also mostly retreating, while briefly advancing in response to short-term climatic trends. In a stable 1981–2010 climate, Kesselwandferner would relatively quickly reach a steady state. Vernagtferner’s geometry since 1979 favors mass loss by thinning, primarily due to extended surge-related mass losses since 1845; this inability to retreat has led to – and will further – Vernagtferner’s disintegration.

Keywords: mass-budget anomalies, Geometry change, geometry signal, Climate forcing, glacier state, European Alps

Received: 13 Jun 2018; Accepted: 14 Nov 2018.

Edited by:

Alun Hubbard, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Norway

Reviewed by:

Robert McNabb, Department of Geosciences, University of Oslo, Norway
Andy Aschwanden, University of Alaska Fairbanks, United States  

Copyright: © 2018 Charalampidis, Fischer, Kuhn, Lambrecht, Mayer, Thomaidis and Weber. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Charalampos Charalampidis, Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Munich, Germany, babis.charalamp@gmail.com