A one-dimensional time-dependent flowline model of Rhonegletscher, Switzerland, has been used to test the glacier’s response to climatic warming. Mass-balance variations over the last 100 years are obtained from observations of the equilibrium-line altitude (ELA) and a reconstruction of the ELA based on a statistical correlation between temperature and ELA. For the period prior to AD 1882, for which no reliable climate data exist, we chose equilibrium-line altitudes that enabled us to simulate accurately the glacier length from AD 1602.
The model simulates the historical glacier length almost perfectly and glacier geometry very well. It underestimates glacier-surface velocities by 1-18%. Following these reference experiments, we investigated the response of Rhonegletscher to a number of climate-change scenarios for the period AD 1990-2100. For a constant climate equal to the 1961-90 mean, the model predicts a 6% decrease in glacier volume by AD 2100. Rhonegletscher will retreat by almost 1 km over the next 100 years at this scenario. At a warming rate of 0.04 K a-1, only 4% of the glacier volume will be left by AD 2100.