Réf. Huss & al. 2009 - A

Référence bibliographique complète

HUSS, M., FUNK, M., OHMURA, A. 2009. Strong Alpine glacier melt in the 1940s due to enhanced solar radiation. Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 36, L23501, doi:10.1029/2009GL040789

Abstract: A 94-year time series of annual glacier melt at four high elevation sites in the European Alps is used to investigate the effect of global dimming and brightening of solar radiation on glacier mass balance. Snow and ice melt was stronger in the 1940s than in recent years, in spite of significantly higher air temperatures in the present decade. An inner Alpine radiation record shows that in the 1940s global shortwave radiation over the summer months was 8% above the long-term average and significantly higher than today, favoring rapid glacier mass loss. Dimming of solar radiation from the 1950s until the 1980s is in line with reduced melt rates and advancing glaciers.

Mots-clés
Glacier mass balance, Solar radiation, Global dimming and brightening, Switzerland

Organismes / Contact

• Laboratory of Hydraulics, Hydrology and Glaciology, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
• Department of Geosciences, University of Fribourg, Fribourg, Switzerland - matthias.huss@unifr.ch
• Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich, Zurich, 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
Temperature, Precipitation, Cloudiness, Solar radiation Glaciers (mass balance)    

Pays / Zone
Massif / Secteur
Site(s) d'étude
Exposition
Altitude
Période(s) d'observation
Switzerland   Claridenfirn, Aletsch and Silvretta glaciers; Davos and 3 other radiation stations   Sites are located between 2700 and 3350 m a.s.l. 1914-2008

(1) - Modifications des paramètres atmosphériques
Reconstitutions
 
Observations

The long-term radiation records at Davos show significant changes in global summer (JJA) radiation throughout the 20th century. The time series reflect the trend towards a dimming of global radiation between 1950 and 1980 [Ohmura, 2009] and brightening during the last two decades, both recognizable on a global scale and related to the aerosol content of the atmosphere [Wild et al., 2005]. Top of the atmosphere radiation variations are in the order of 1 W m–2 and thus small compared to changes observed at the earth’s surface. At the inner Alpine station of Davos, maximal global radiation was recorded during the 1940s . Summer radiation was 8% above the long-term average and 18 W m–2 higher than over the last decade. The positive summer radiation anomalies between 1940 and 1960 provide evidence that the extreme melt rates in the 1940s were favored by radiation and only to a lesser extent by high air temperatures.

Since the 1970s the calculated fraction of snowfall relative to the total annual precipitation has decreased by 12% on average at the study sites.

Dimming and brightening of solar radiation can be explained with changes in cloudiness and atmospheric transmission [Wild et al., 2005; Ohmura, 2009]. Increased aerosol concentration until the 1980s, related to air pollution [Ramanathan et al., 2001], leads to lower transmissivity of the cloud-free atmosphere [Wild et al., 2005], and also promotes cloud formation [Krüger and Graßl, 2002]. Between 1960 and 1980 high cloudiness, low global radiation and low air temperatures in the European Alps [Auer et al., 2007] are in line with strongly reduced glacier melt rates, resulting in a short period of balanced mass budget of mountain glaciers worldwide [Kaser et al., 2006]. The enhanced greenhouse effect of terrestrial radiation and the brightening of solar radiation since the early 1980s induced higher air temperatures [Wild et al., 2004; Philipona et al., 2009] and increasing snow and ice melt over the last decades approaching the maximum of the 1940s.

Modélisations
 
Hypothèses
 

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

Monthly means of global solar radiation since the late 1930s are available from the Global Energy Balance Archive (GEBA) [Ohmura et al., 1989] for an inner Alpine station at Davos. The radiation data were checked for accuracy and homogeneity [Ohmura et al., 1989]. Global radiation has also been continuously measured for almost three decades at 14 stations at elevations between 400-3600 m a.s.l. all located within 50 km of the three study sites. Radiation data in three regions are used to investigate the spatial representativity of the long-term measurements at Davos for the Alpine mountain range.

The tendency towards relative homogeneity in global solar radiation increases with altitude and is higher in summer than in winter [Marty et al., 2002]. This is favorable to the application of radiation data obtained at distant stations for interpreting melt rates on glaciers. Only the summer months considered were as these are the most important for glacier melt. The regional mean summer (June, July, August) global solar radiation in the three regions, each representing one of the investigated glaciers, shows coherent temporal fluctuations with correlation coefficients r² > 0.6. Between 1981 and 2008 both the long-term mean and the temporal fluctuations (r² = 0.60) of summer radiation at Davos are matched by the average of the 14 time series distributed throughout the Alps. The authors therefore assume the variations in global summer radiation at Davos since 1936 to be representative at the scale of the Swiss Alps.


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

Melting conditions have undergone strong temporal variations throughout the last century. Three decadal periods of equal length are highlighted, accentuating the most significant snow and ice melt anomalies: During 1942–1952 and 1998–2008 melting was 17% and 13%, respectively, above average, while it was below average in 1971–1981 (–19%). According to the century-long data series, maximal melting at the study sites took place in 1947. Melt rates were substantially higher than in the summer of 2003, known for its extreme heat waves in Europe [Schär et al., 2004]. Snow and ice melt at the four high elevation sites was stronger by 4% in the 1940s compared to the last decade. This is intriguing because air temperatures during the 20th century never were as high as today. According to the nonparametric Mann-Kendall-Test, the 1914–2008 trend in air temperature is positive and statistically significant at the 99% level; there is no significant trend, however, in the annual melt rates. The observed multidecadal changes in snow and ice melt cannot be explained by temperature variations alone.

The positive summer radiation anomalies between 1940 and 1960 provide evidence that the extreme melt rates in the 1940s were favored by radiation and only to a lesser extent by high air temperatures.

The results indicate a prolongation of the melting season (number of days with melt >1 kg m–2) at high elevations by almost one month since the 1970s. Simultaneously, the calculated fraction of snowfall relative to the total annual precipitation has decreased by 12% on average at the study sites. These processes have the potential to considerably accelerate future glacier wastage, have strong impacts on the hydrological cycle and could offset the effect of currently lower solar radiation compared to the 1940s. Lower surface albedo due to earlier melting of the winter snow and dust deposition on glacier tongues [Oerlemans et al., 2009] may further enhance glacier melt. This feedback, however, has not yet been reflected at the study sites situated in the accumulation area in most years.

Between 1960 and 1980 high cloudiness, low global radiation and low air temperatures in the European Alps [Auer et al., 2007] are in line with strongly reduced glacier melt rates, resulting in a short period of balanced mass budget of mountain glaciers worldwide [Kaser et al., 2006]. The enhanced greenhouse effect of terrestrial radiation and the brightening of solar radiation since the early 1980s induced higher air temperatures [Wild et al., 2004; Philipona et al., 2009] and increasing snow and ice melt over the last decades approaching the maximum of the 1940s.

Annual diagnosis of degree-day factor for snow (DDFsnow) using the seasonal mass balance measurements allows the authors to quantify the long-term changes in the relation between positive air temperatures and melt. They find relatively stable DDFs until the mid-1970s followed by a negative trend of –7% per decade. The drivers for these long-term variations cannot be detected based on the available data sets as they do not resolve all components of the energy balance. Higher air temperature dependent incoming longwave radiation plausibly explains part of the observed decrease in DDFsnow over the last decades, confirming an oversensitivity of temperature-index models to temperature change [Pellicciotti et al., 2005]. DDFs are, however, also affected by variations in global shortwave radiation, and, to a lesser extent, by turbulent heat fluxes [Braithwaite, 1995; Ohmura, 2001]. The authors therefore caution against using classical temperature-index models calibrated in the past for projecting snow and ice melt in glaciological and hydrological studies and to calculate future sea level rise.

The data sets provide evidence that the extraordinary melt rates in the 1940s can be attributed to enhanced solar radiation in summertime. Models for past and future glacier changes should take into account the effect of decadal radiation variations as they significantly alter the relationship between glacier melt and air temperature.

Modélisations
 
Hypothèses

The prolongation of the melting season (number of days with melt >1 kg m–2) at high elevations and the deacrease of the calculated fraction of snowfall (relative to the total annual precipitation) have the potential to considerably accelerate future glacier wastage, have strong impacts on the hydrological cycle and could offset the effect of currently lower solar radiation compared to the 1940s. Lower surface albedo due to earlier melting of the winter snow and dust deposition on glacier tongues [Oerlemans et al., 2009] may further enhance glacier melt. This feedback, however, has not yet been reflected at the study sites situated in the accumulation area in most years.


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

For the last decades a rapid mass loss of mountain glaciers in response to climate warming has been reported for high and low latitudes all over the planet [Kaser et al., 2006]. Glacier wastage in the 20th century was mainly attributed to changes in air temperature [e.g., Haeberli and Beniston, 1998; Braithwaite and Zhang, 1999]. Global solar radiation at the earth’s surface shows significant variations over the last century profoundly affecting the climate system [Ohmura and Lang, 1989; Wild et al., 2004, 2005]. Changes in solar radiation were rarely considered to explain cryospheric variability on decadal time scales [Ohmura et al., 2007]. This is due to the scarcity of both long-term radiation measurements and unbiased time series of glacier melt.

The surface mass balance of alpine glaciers is mainly determined by the sum of solid precipitation and melt throughout one year.

The authors interpret a 94-year time series of annual snow and ice melt at four high elevation sites in the European Alps derived from the longest direct observations of glacier surface mass balance worldwide [Huss and Bauder, 2009]. They investigate possible drivers of multidecadal changes in the glacier mass budget by putting into context the impact of variations in solar radiation given by a 73-year radiation record. Based on the presented data sets they discuss the limitations of the empirical temperature index approach for projections of glacier melt.

Long-term measurements of the seasonal mass balance have been carried out since 1914 at four point locations in the accumulation area of different Swiss glaciers [Müller and Kappenberger, 1991; Huss and Bauder, 2009]. Winter snow accumulation and the summer ablation, respectively, were observed almost every year. Two stakes on Claridenfirn, and one stake each on Aletschgletscher and Silvrettagletscher are surveyed. Methods of field data homogenization and analysis are described in detail by Huss and Bauder [2009].

The 94-year seasonal field measurements are evaluated using a temperature-index melt model based on daily meteorological data. Using the model (i) field data are homogenized, and (ii) mass balance components – accumulation and melt – are separated. Daily melt rates M are calculated using air temperature T > 0°C as [Hock, 1999]. M = (fM + rsnow=firn I) . T (equation 1). fM is a melt factor and rsnow/firn are radiation factors for snow and firn surfaces; the three factors are assumed to be proportional to each other [Huss and Bauder, 2009]. Formulation includes the variation of potential direct clearsky radiation in the course of the year, the evolution of the snow cover determining the surface type and different albedo over snow and firn surfaces. Snow accumulation is calculated as solid precipitation corrected using a dimensionless multiplier cprec and separated from the liquid state by a threshold of 1.5°C [Hock, 1999]. Measured daily mean air temperature and precipitation are extrapolated to the study sites assuming constant altitudinal gradients. The melt factors and cprec are diagnosed based on the seasonal field data. This is done for each year individually, so that both the measurement of winter accumulation and summer ablation are matched by the calculated cumulative daily mass balance curve, providing annually varying parameter values for the melt factors and cprec [Huss and Bauder, 2009].

The tendency towards relative homogeneity in global solar radiation increases with altitude and is higher in summer than in winter [Marty et al., 2002]. This is favorable to the application of radiation data obtained at distant stations for interpreting melt rates on glaciers. Only the summer months considered were as these are the most important for glacier melt.

For each year the relative anomaly in annual snow and ice melt inferred from the seasonal measurements is obtained. The relative fluctuations in the melt anomaly are similar for all four time series [Huss and Bauder, 2009]; the data confirm the small regional differences in climatic forcing over the European Alps reported by Vincent et al. [2004]. For further analysis the four time series of the relative melt anomaly are averaged.

Temperature-index models (TIMs) are widely applied in glaciology and hydrology due to their simplicity and limited field data requirements [Hock, 2005]. The so called degree-day factors (DDFs) empirically relate air temperature to melt, integrating all components of the energy balance. TIMs are known to perform well in reproducing observed melt rates for various reasons [Ohmura, 2001; Sicart et al., 2008]. Variations in the DDF over the year due to short-term changes in the radiation budget are broadly acknowledged [e.g., Braithwaite, 1995; Hock, 2005]. The stability of DDFs over decadal periods, however, has been rarely discussed in literature.

Based on equation (1) the authors define the degree-day factor for snow as DDFsnow = (fM + rsnow Ï ), with Ï the annual mean of potential direct radiation.


(3) - Effets du changement climatique sur l'aléa
Reconstitutions
 
Observations
 
Modélisations
 
Hypothèses
 

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

 


(4) - Remarques générales

Changes in climatic forcing are directly reflected by the mass budget of snow and ice surfaces (see von Hann [1897] and Hock [2005] for a review). Understanding the impact of changing climate conditions on glacier melt is a prerequisite for projections of glacier volume, changes in mountain hydrology, natural hazard frequency and sea level rise.


(5) - Syntèses et préconisations
 

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