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Atmospheric warming threatens the untapped glacial archive of Ortles mountain, South Tyrol

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Abstract:

Ortles mountain (3905 m a.s.l.), South Tyrol, Italy, is the highest mountain of the Eastern European Alps, and its upper glacier, Alto dell'Ortles, presents a unique opportunity to obtain the first paleoenvironmental record from an ice core in this area. To study the suitability of this glacier as a drilling site, in 2009 we performed the first preliminary study of its glaciological characteristics at ∼3830 m a.s.l. The maximum thickness is∼75 m, and lamination of the exposed ice layers is excellent down to bedrock. Firn and ice lenses were observed in a 10 m shallow core, and the firn/ice transition was below ∼24 m. The seasonal chemical signal is clearly preserved only within the uppermost 2008 and 2009 snow/firn. A simple mass-balance model, the incipient 'smoothing' of the chemical record, and the observed ice lenses provide evidence that melting, infiltration and refreezing cycles occurred within the firn layers formed before 2008. Nevertheless, the mass balance of the upper part of Alto dell'Ortles was positive (∼800 mm a−1) during the last few years. We suggest that an environmental history is likely to be well preserved only within the ice layers formed before ∼1980, when summer air temperature was ∼2°C colder than today in this area. Clearly the continued warming trend predicted to occur over the next few decades, and the consequent increase in frequency and/or intensity of infiltration processes, will endanger the preservation of the glacial archive conserved in the deep ice layers of Ortles mountain.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.3189/002214310794457263

Publication date: 2010-12-01

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  • The Journal of Glaciology is published six times per year. It accepts submissions from any discipline related to the study of snow and ice. All articles are peer reviewed. The Journal is included in the ISI Science Citation Index.

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