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In the southernmost tract of the Alps (Italian-French Maritime Alps), extensively covered by glaciers during the Last Glacial Maximum, about 30 small glaciers were present by the end of the Little Ice Age. The aim of this paper is to document the progressive decrease towards exhaustion of these glaciers, located at the latitude of 44° N, highlighting the factors affecting their retreat. All available data sources were investigated for this work including: the annual glaciers fluctuations record, comparative analyses of historical maps and multi-temporal oblique photographs and direct surveys in the field. The history of the Maritime Alps glaciers fluctuations was thoroughly reconstructed. Stationary conditions were observed from 1896 up to the beginning of the 1930s; since then they underwent phases of withdrawal with variable intensity. In the early 1990s, only six glaciers were still present, the extent of which were all was dramatically reduced. In the past two decades, the Maritime Alps glacier fronts experienced a global retreat of about 100 m, with a sharp acceleration after 2002. Currently ice patches along cirque walls and/or semi-buried lenses of ice are still present; morphological evidence of permafrost creeping in the glacier forefield accounts for the incipient transition to periglacial landforms (i.e. rock glaciers). The main factors controlling glaciers retreat seem to have been their original extent at the beginning of the current regressive phase and their distance from the main chain divide. From a climatic point of view unfavourable factors for glaciers persistence have been in the last decades a remarkable and sharp temperature increase, a decrease in winter snowfall and a shift of the rainfall peak from autumn to spring.
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Keywords: Maritime Alps; climatic change; deglaciation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra, Pisa University, Italy

Publication date: 2010-09-01

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