Recent increases in winter snowfall provide resilience to very small glaciers in the Julian Alps, Europe

Renato R. Colucci*, Manja Žebre, Csaba Zsolt Torma, Neil F. Glasser, Eleonora Maset, Costanza Del Gobbo, Simone Pillon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

Very small glaciers (<0.5 km2) account for more than 80% of the total number of glaciers and more than 15% of the total glacier area in the European Alps. This study seeks to better understand the impact of extreme snowfall events on the resilience of very small glaciers and ice patches in the southeastern European Alps, an area with the highest mean annual precipitation in the entire Alpine chain. Mean annual precipitation here is up to 3300 mm water equivalent, and the winter snow accumulation is approximately 6.80 m at 1800 m asl averaged over the period 1979–2018. As a consequence, very small glaciers and ice/firn patches are still present in this area at rather low altitudes (1830–2340 m). We performed repeated geodetic mass balance measurements on 14 ice bodies during the period 2006–2018 and the results show an increase greater than 10% increase in ice volume over this period. This is in accordance with several extreme winter snow accumulations in the 2000s, promoting a positive mass balance in the following years. The long-term evolution of these very small glaciers and ice bodies matches well with changes in mean temperature of the ablation season linked to variability of Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. Nevertheless, the recent behaviour of such residual ice masses in this area where orographic precipitation represents an important component of weather amplification is somehow different to most of the Alps. We analysed synoptic meteorological conditions leading to the exceptional snowy winters in the 2000s, which appear to be related to the influence and modification of atmospheric planetary waves and Arctic Amplification, with further positive feedbacks due to change in local sea surface temperature and its interactions with low level flows and the orography. Although further summer warming is expected in the next decades, we conclude that modification of storm tracks and more frequent occurrence of extreme snowfall events during winter are crucial in ensuring the resilience of small glacial remnants in maritime alpine sectors.

Original languageEnglish
Article number263
Number of pages25
JournalAtmosphere
Volume12
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 17 Feb 2021

Keywords

  • AMO
  • Climate
  • Climate change
  • Glacier mass balance
  • Precipitation
  • Small glaciers

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