Pôle Alpin Risques Naturels (PARN) Alpes–Climat–Risques Avec le soutien de la Région Rhône-Alpes (2007-2014)

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Réf. Wirth & al. 2013 - A

Référence bibliographique
WIRTH S. B., GLUR L., GILLI A., ANSELMETTI F. S., Holocene flood frequency across the central alps - Solar forcing and evidence for variations in North Atlantic atmospheric circulation. Quartenary Science Reviews 80 (2013) pp. 112-128

Abstract : The frequency of large-scale heavy precipitation events in the European Alps is expected to undergo substantial changes with current climate change. Hence, knowledge about the past natural variability of floods caused by heavy precipitation constitutes important input for climate projections. We present a comprehensive Holocene (10,000 years) reconstruction of the flood frequency in the Central European Alps combining 15 lacustrine sediment records. These records provide an extensive catalog of flood deposits, which were generated by flood-induced underflows delivering terrestrial material to the lake floors. The multi-archive approach allows suppressing local weather patterns, such as thunderstorms, from the obtained climate signal. We reconstructed mainly late spring to fall events since ice cover and precipitation in form of snow in winter at high-altitude study sites do inhibit the generation of flood layers. We found that flood frequency was higher during cool periods, coinciding with lows in solar activity. In addition, flood occurrence shows periodicities that are also observed in reconstructions of solar activity from 14C and 10Be records (2500e3000, 900e1200, as well as of about 710, 500, 350, 208 (Suess cycle), 150, 104 and 87 (Gleissberg cycle) years). As atmospheric mechanism, we propose an expansion/shrinking of the Hadley cell with increasing/decreasing air temperature, causing dry/wet conditions in Central Europe during phases of high/low solar activity. Furthermore, differences between the flood patterns from the Northern Alps and the Southern Alps indicate changes in North Atlantic circulation. Enhanced flood occurrence in the South compared to the North suggests a pronounced southward position of theWesterlies and/or blocking over the northern North Atlantic, hence resembling a negative NAO state (most distinct from 4.2 to 2.4 kyr BP and during the Little Ice Age). South-Alpine flood activity therefore provides a qualitative record of variations in a paleo-NAO pattern during the Holocene. Additionally, increased South Alpine flood activity contrasts to low precipitation in tropical Central America (Cariaco Basin) on the Holocene and centennial time scale. This observation is consistent with a Holocene southward migration of the Atlantic circulation system, and hence of the ITCZ, driven by decreasing summer insolation in the Northern hemisphere, as well as with shorter-term fluctuations probably driven by solar activity.

 Alps, Lake sediments, Heavy precipitation, flood reconstruction, solar forcing, NAO, North Altantic

Organismes / Contact

Auteurs/authors :

  • WIRTH S. B., Geological Institute, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
  • GLUR L., Eawag, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Dübendorf, Switzerland
  • GILLI A., Geological Institute, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
  • ANSELMETTI F. S., Eawag, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Dübendorf, Switzerland & Institute of Geological Sciences and Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland

(1) - Paramètre(s) atmosphérique(s) modifié(s)
(2) - Elément(s) du milieu impacté(s)
(3) - Type(s) d'aléa impacté(s)
(3) - Sous-type(s) d'aléa

Pays / Zone
Massif / Secteur
Site(s) d'étude
Période(s) d'observation
  Alpes Centrales Européennes        

(1) - Modifications des paramètres atmosphériques



Informations complémentaires (données utilisées, méthode, scénarios, etc.)

(2) - Effets du changement climatique sur le milieu naturel

1)Investigating lake sediments is a powerful tool to track the occurrence of flood events in the past. Yet, working with multiple lake records is important in an orographic setting like the Alps, in which local as well as large-scale weather patterns contribute to the climate signal. Thus, the used multi-archive approach enabled us to reconstruct large-scale precipitation events and to suppress spatially limited and temporally scattered convective events such as thunderstorms.

2)An initial assumption that altitude differences produce a seasonality signal based on ice cover on high-altitude lakes in winter was not fulfilled. Hence, we conclude that most of the recorded floods occurred in summer and autumn, which is confirmed by flood reconstructions covering the past 500 years using instrumental and historic data as well as by varved lake sediments from the N- and S-Alps.

3)The flood records of the single lakes as well as the stacked flood records for the N- and S-Alps show centennial- to millennial-scale fluctuations in flood activity, often varying by more than 50% within only decades.

4)Periodicities found in the stacked records, i.e. approximately 2000e3000, 900e1200, 740, 500, 350, 200e250, 150, 100 and 87 years, strongly correspond to solar cycles. Indeed, high flood activity correlates to lows in solar activity, as well as to Holocene cold events and to global/alpine glacier advances, all together implying that flood events occur more often during cool periods in the Central Alps. As overall atmospheric mechanism, we propose a widening/shrinking of the Hadley circulation cell with high/low solar activity, bringing dry/wet conditions to Central Europe during summer time.

5)Differing flood activities in the N-Alps versus the S-Alps are probably provoked by changes in the meridional position of the Westerlies over the North Atlantic. Most conspicuous is the period between 4.2 and 2.4 kyr BP, which is regarded as cool on both sides of the Alps but with intense flooding only in the SAlps. For this special period, we propose that the circulation system has an exceptionally southerly position and/or blocking occurs over the northern North Atlantic. This enables strong winds to enter the Mediterranean Sea and to generate precipitation in the Southern Alpine realm.

6) In addition, the good agreement between S-Alpine flood activity, ssNa from the GISP2 ice core (Mayewski et al., 1997), Holocene precipitation reconstructions from the Cariaco basin (negative relation) (Haug et al., 2001) and from the Northeastern United States (Noren et al., 2002), as well as NAO reconstructions (Trouet et al., 2009; Olsen et al., 2012), indicates that the S-Alpine flood record is sensitive to record variations in North Atlantic circulation, and hence provides evidence for long-term variations in a paleo-NAO pattern.





Sensibilité du milieu à des paramètres climatiques
Informations complémentaires (données utilisées, méthode, scénarios, etc.)


(3) - Effets du changement climatique sur l'aléa

Paramètre de l'aléa
Sensibilité du paramètres de l'aléa à des paramètres climatiques
Informations complémentaires (données utilisées, méthode, scénarios, etc.)

(4) - Remarques générales

(5) - Syntèses et préconisations

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