200 years of equilibrium-line altitude variability across the European Alps (1901−2100)

Manja Žebre*, Renato R. Colucci, Filippo Giorgi, Neil F. Glasser, Adina E. Racoviteanu, Costanza Del Gobbo

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Mountain glaciers are key indicators of climate change. Their response is revealed by the environmental equilibrium-line altitude (ELA), i.e. the regional altitude of zero mass balance averaged over a long period of time. We introduce a simple approach for distributed modelling of the environmental ELA over the entire European Alps based on the parameterization of ELA in terms of summer temperature and annual precipitation at a glacier. We use 200 years of climate records and forecasts to model environmental ELA from 1901 to 2100 at 5 arcmin grid cell resolution. Historical environmental ELAs are reconstructed based on precipitation from the Long-term Alpine Precipitation reconstruction (LAPrec) dataset and temperature from the Historical Instrumental climatological Surface Time series of the greater Alpine region (HISTALP). The simulations of future environmental ELAs are forced with high-resolution EURO-CORDEX regional climate model projections for the European domain using three different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios (Representative Concentration Pathways, RCP). Our reconstructions yielded an environmental ELA across the European Alps of 2980 m above sea level for the period 1901−1930, with a rise of 114 m in the period 1971−2000. The environmental ELA is projected to exceed the maximum elevation of 69%, 81% and 92% of the glaciers in the European Alps by 2071−2100 under mitigation (RCP2.6), stabilization (RCP4.5) and high greenhouse gas emission (RCP8.5) scenarios, respectively.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1183-1201
Number of pages19
JournalClimate Dynamics
Volume56
Issue number3-4
Early online date07 Dec 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 01 Feb 2021

Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Equilibrium-line altitude
  • EURO-CORDEX
  • European Alps
  • Glaciers

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