Future high-mountain hydrology: a new parameterization of glacier retreat
- 1Department of Geosciences, University of Fribourg, 1700 Fribourg, Switzerland
- 2Laboratory of Hydraulics, Hydrology and Glaciology (VAW), ETH Zurich, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland
- 3Institute of Analysis and Scientific Computing, EPF Lausanne, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland
Abstract. Global warming is expected to significantly affect the runoff regime of mountainous catchments. Simple methods for calculating future glacier change in hydrological models are required in order to reliably assess economic impacts of changes in the water cycle over the next decades. Models for temporal and spatial glacier evolution need to describe the climate forcing acting on the glacier, and ice flow dynamics. Flow models, however, demand considerable computational resources and field data input and are moreover not applicable on the regional scale. Here, we propose a simple parameterization for calculating the change in glacier surface elevation and area, which is mass conserving and suited for hydrological modelling. The Δh-parameterization is an empirical glacier-specific function derived from observations in the past that can easily be applied to large samples of glaciers. We compare the Δh-parameterization to results of a 3-D finite-element ice flow model. As case studies, the evolution of two Alpine glaciers of different size over the period 2008–2100 is investigated using regional climate scenarios. The parameterization closely reproduces the distributed ice thickness change, as well as glacier area and length predicted by the ice flow model. This indicates that for the purpose of transient runoff forecasts, future glacier geometry change can be approximated using a simple parameterization instead of complex ice flow modelling. Furthermore, we analyse alpine glacier response to 21st century climate change and consequent shifts in the runoff regime of a highly glacierized catchment using the proposed methods.