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Glaciers and Climate Change Spatio-temporal Analysis of Glacier Fluctuations in the European Alps after 1850

Glaciers and Climate Change


Spatio-temporal Analysis of

Glacier Fluctuations

in the European Alps after 1850




Michael Zemp


2006 




Glaciers and Climate Change

Spatio-temporal Analysis of Glacier Fluctuations

in the European Alps after 1850

Dissertation

zur

Erlangung der naturwissenschaftlichen Doktorwürde

(Dr. sc. nat.)

vorgelegt der

Mathematisch-naturwissenschaftlichen Fakultät

der

Universität Zürich

von

Michael Zemp

von Romoos LU

Promotionskomitee

Prof. Dr. Wilfried Haeberli (Vorsitz)

Dr. Martin Hoelzle

Zürich, 2006 


Summary In densely populated high mountain regions such as the European Alps, glaciers are an inherent component of the Alpine culture, landscape and environment. They represent a unique resource of fresh water for agriculture and industry, an important economic component of tourism and hydro-power production, and a potential source of serious natural hazards. Due to their proximity to the melting point, glaciers are considered among the best natural indicators of global climate change. Mountain glaciers have become the leading icon in the current debate on climate change and on the uniqueness of present-day changes as compared to the variations which occurred during the Holocene period. Although numerous studies have investigated the relationship between glaciers and climate change, glacier-climate studies that focus on an entire mountain range and integrate in-situ measurements, remote sensing data and modelling approaches, as proposed by modern monitoring strategies, have for the most part been lacking.

It is to fill this gap in our understanding that this study undertakes to investigate glacier fluctuations in the European Alps after 1850. Glacier inventories, in-situ measurements and a numerical model (based on an empirical relationship between precipitation and temperature at the glacier steady-state equilibrium line altitude) are used in combination with a digital elevation model and GIS techniques to analyse the glacier fluctuations between 1850 and the end of the 21st century of the entire Alpine mountain range. 

It is to fill this gap in our understanding that this study undertakes to investigate glacier fluctuations in the European Alps after 1850. Glacier inventories, in-situ measurements and a numerical model (based on an empirical relationship between precipitation and temperature at the glacier steady-state equilibrium line altitude) are used in combination with a digital elevation model and GIS techniques to analyse the glacier fluctuations between 1850 and the end of the 21st century of the entire Alpine mountain range.

The presented study demonstrates how modern monitoring strategies can be applied for the investigation of glaciers of an entire mountain range, and that the probability of glaciers in the European Alps disappearing within the coming decades is far from slight. 

The thesis consists of a collection of five papers; the studies reported on were carried out within the framework of the EU-funded ALP-IMP project and of the World Glacier Monitoring Service. 




Contents

Part A: Overview

Summary i

Zusammenfassung iii

Contents v

List of Figures ix

List of Abbreviations xi

1 Introduction 1

1.1 Motivation .................................................................1

1.2 Research objectives ..................................................2

1.3 Outline of the thesis................................................2

2 The European Alps 5

3 Thematic and scientific background 7

3.1 Climate ...................................................................7

3.1.1 Pleistocene and Lategl...................................... 7

3.1.2 Holocene ......................................................... 8

3.1.3 The last millennium ........................................... 9

3.1.4 Future scenarios ............................................... 11

3.2 Glaciers and climate change ...............................13

3.2.1 The cryosphere model .......................................... 13

3.2.2 Energy balance at the glacier surface.................. 15

3.2.3 Glacier mass balance................................................ 16

3.2.4 Glacier reaction to changing climate..................... 17

3.2.5 Modelling approaches.............................................. 18

3.3 International glacier monitoring ............................20

3.4 Alpine glacier fluctuations before 1850 ....................23

4 Summary of research 27

4.1 Paper I ................................................................ 28

4.2 Paper II ............................................................. 29

4.3 Paper III ......................................................... 30

4.4 Paper IV.................................................................. 31

4.5 Paper V.................................................................. 32

5 General discussion 33

5.1 Revision and extension of the Alpine glacier data set ... 33

5.2 Alpine glacier fluctuations after 1850............................. 34

5.3 Comparison of glacier changes in the European Alps with other mountain ranges........................................................ 36

5.4 Modelling of past, present and future Alpine glacierisations... 37

5.5 Glacier monitoring in the European Alps .................. 39

6 Conclusions 41

7 Outlook 43

References 47

Personal bibliography 63

Acknowledgements 65

Curriculum vitae 67 

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