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Climatic warming, glacier recession and runoff from Alpine basins after the Little Ice Age maximum

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Records of discharge of rivers draining Alpine basins with between 0 and ∼70% ice cover, in the upper Aare and Rhône catchments, Switzerland, for the period 1894–2006 have been examined together with climatic data for 1866–2006, with a view to assessing the effects on runoff from glacierized basins of climatic warming coupled with glacier recession following the Little Ice Age maximum. Annual runoff from ice-free basins reflects precipitation variations, rising from minima between 1880 and 1910 to maxima between the late 1960s and early 1980s. The more highly glacierized the basin, the more runoff mimicked mean May–September air temperature during two periods of warming. Runoff increased gradually from the 1900s, rapidly in the 1940s, before decreasing to the late 1970s. Rising runoff levels during the second warming period failed to exceed those attained during the first, despite higher summer temperatures. Although temperatures continued to rise, discharge from glacierized basins declined after reaching maxima in the late 1980s to early 1990s. In the first warming period, rising specific melt rates augmented by increasing precipitation opposed the impact of declining glacier area on runoff. Although melt continued to increase in the second period, enhanced melting (even in the exceptionally warm summer of 2003) appears to have been insufficient to offset reducing glacier surface area exposed to melt, low or reducing levels of precipitation, and increasing evaporation. Thus runoff from glacierized basins peaked in the late 1940s to early 1950s.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2008-06-01

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  • The Annals of Glaciology is a peer-reviewed, thematic journal published 2 to 4 times a year by the International Glaciological Society (IGS). Publication frequency is determined and volume/issue numbers assigned by the IGS Council on a year-to-year basis and with a lead time of 3 to 4 years. The Annals of Glaciology is included in the ISI Science Citation Index from volume 50, number 50 onwards.

    Themes can be on any aspect of the study of snow and ice. Individual members can make a suggestion for a theme for an Annals issue to the Secretary General, who will forward it to the IGS Publications Committee. The IGS Publication Committee will make a recommendation for an individual themed Annals issue, together with a potential Annals Chief Editor for that issue, to IGS Council. The IGS Council will make the decision whether to proceed, taking into account the spread of topics and the overall capacity for publication of pages in Annals.

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