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Climatic controls of glacier distribution and glacier changes in Austria

  • J. Abermann (a1) (a2), M. Kuhn (a1) (a2) and A. Fischer (a2)


In this study we aim to connect glacier extent in 1998 with general climatic conditions, and glacier changes between 1969 and 1998 with climate change in the Austrian Alps. The investigations are based on two complete glacier inventories, a homogenized gridded precipitation dataset and European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts re-analysis (ERA-40) data of air temperature at different levels. A relationship between median glacier elevation, minimal elevation, the general elevation of the surrounding mountains and mean climatic values was found. In the Austrian Alps, the existence of glaciers at low elevations can only be maintained with above-average accumulation or strong dynamic ice supply. For debris-free glaciers, we found a limit of ~2080ma.s.l., where mean summer temperatures (June–August) exceed 4°C. Glacier changes from 1969 to 1998 are strongly negative both in relative area and in mean thickness. There is a weak and regionally varying negative trend in precipitation over this period. A spatially consistent sequence of positive temperature anomalies in the early 1980s and after 1990 offers an explanation for the retreat. The study shows that the observed spatial variability of glacier changes is connected more strongly to the topographic differences than to a regionally different climate change signal.

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