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Recent hydrologic change in a Colorado alpine basin: an indicator of permafrost thaw?

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Hydrologic and hydrochemical studies have been conducted in Green Lakes Valley, Colorado Front Range, USA, above 3550 m since 1982. They show a classic seasonal hydrograph dominated by snowmelt and an earlier date for the start of spring flow and for peak flow over the period of record. This is consistent with patterns found at lower elevations in Colorado and throughout western North America. They also show an increasing trend in flows in September and October of 2.6±0.7 mm a–1 which is not found elsewhere and cannot be accounted for by increased autumn precipitation and the melting of surface ice. Because this late-season increase is not found at the highest elevations or in basins in which there is no evidence of permafrost, it seems best explained by the thawing of alpine permafrost at intermediate elevations. This is corroborated by an increase in the concentration of base cations and silica, and particularly in Ca2+ and SO4 , in the stream discharge starting in 2000. As with the physical hydrology, the geochemical signals have not been detected at the higher elevations in the basin, though they have previously been associated with streamflow from a small rock glacier in the valley. The combined evidence suggests the degradation of ice-rich permafrost on the north-facing slopes of the valley below 3700 m, where it has been detected at 3 m depth by geophysical surveys.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2010-12-01

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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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