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Glacier Distribution in the Alps: Statistical Modelling of Altitude and Aspect

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Mass balance of glaciers in mountain areas varies not only with altitude and regional position but also with aspect, gradient, glacier size, glacier type and detailed topographic position. These factors are combined here in models of how glacier altitude varies, tested with data for the Alps edited from the World Glacier Inventory. An overall northward tendency in glacier numbers (toward 005 ± 4°) and lower altitudes (013 ± 5°) is maintained across a range of glacier sizes, types, altitudes and the major divisions of the Alps. Variation with aspect of glacier altitude (and, by implication, of glacier balance) in the Alps is essentially unimodal, and north-facing glaciers average 220 m lower in middle altitude than south-facing: 148 m in the Western Alps, 232 m in the West-central, 252 m in the East-central, and 268 m in the Eastern Alps. For smaller subdivisions, confidence intervals on estimates are broader and many differences lack statistical significance. Contrasts are greater in the higher massifs, with greater relief, and lower in cloudy, windward areas. There are small windrelated tendencies east of north along the northern and western fringes, but trends across space are weak: position is thus treated by subdivision into districts and groups. Mid-altitude averages 2891 m overall and varies from 2552 to 3127 m for 27 glacier districts, and from 2124 to 3209 m for 103 glacier groups. Glacier mid-altitude varies also with glacier form, nourishment, height range and area, which account for over two-thirds of variance in combined models.
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Keywords: Austria; Denmark; European Alps; France; Italy; Slovenia; Switzerland; World Glacier Inventory; glacial asymmetry; local glaciation; mountain glaciers

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Geography Department, Durham University, Durham, UK

Publication date: 2006-06-01

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