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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2018-18
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2018-18
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 29 Jan 2018

Research article | 29 Jan 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of the manuscript is under review for the journal The Cryosphere (TC).

Darkening Swiss glacier ice?

Kathrin Naegeli1,2, Matthias Huss1,3, and Martin Hoelzle1 Kathrin Naegeli et al.
  • 1Department of Geosciences, University of Fribourg, Fribourg, Switzerland
  • 2Centre for Glaciology, Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Wales, UK
  • 3Laboratory of Hydraulics, Hydrology and Glaciology (VAW), ETH Zurich, Zurich

Abstract. The albedo feedback is an important driver of glacier melt over bare-ice surfaces. Light-absorbing impurities strongly enhance glacier melt rates but their abundance, composition and variations in space and time are subject to considerable uncertainties and on-going scientific debates. In this study, we assess the temporal evolution of shortwave broadband albedo derived from 19 end-of summer Landsat scenes for the bare-ice areas of 39 large glaciers in the western and southern Swiss Alps. Trends in bare-ice albedo crucially depend on the spatial scale considered. No significant negative temporal trend in bare-ice albedo was found on a regional to glacier-wide scale. However, at higher spatial scales, certain areas of bare-ice including the lowermost elevations and margins of the ablation zones revealed significant darkening over the study period 1999 to 2016. A total glacier area of 16km2 (equivalent to about 12% of the average end-of-summer bare-ice area in the study area) exhibited albedo trends significant at the 95% confidence level or higher. Most of this area was affected by a negative albedo trend of about −0.05 per decade. Generally, bare-ice albedo exhibits a strong interannual variability, caused by a complex interplay of meteorological conditions prior to the acquisition of the data, local glacier characteristics and the date of the investigated satellite imagery. Although, a darkening of glacier ice was found to be present over only a limited region, we emphasise that due to the recent and projected growth of bare-ice areas and prolongation of the ablation season in the region, the albedo feedback will considerably enhance the rate of glacier mass loss in the Swiss Alps in the near future.

Kathrin Naegeli et al.
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Kathrin Naegeli et al.
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The paper investigates the temporal changes of bare-ice glacier surface albedo in the Swiss Alps between 1999 and 2016 at a regional to local scale using satellite data. Significant negative trends were found in the lowermost elevations and margins of the ablation zones. Although, a darkening of glacier ice is only present over a limited area, we emphasize that the albedo feedback will considerably enhance the rate of glacier mass loss in the Swiss Alps in the near future.
The paper investigates the temporal changes of bare-ice glacier surface albedo in the Swiss Alps...
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