Articles | Volume 15, issue 6
29 Jun 2011
 | 29 Jun 2011

The relevance of glacier melt in the water cycle of the Alps: the example of Austria

G. R. Koboltschnig and W. Schöner

Abstract. This paper quantifies the contribution of glacier melt to river runoff from compilation and statistical interpretation of data from available studies based on observations or glacio- hydrological modelling for the region of Austria (Austrian Salzach and Inn river basin). A logarithmic fit between the glacier melt contribution and the relative glacierized area was found not only for the long-term mean glacier contributions but also for the glacier melt contribution during the extreme hot an dry summer of 2003. Interestingly, the mean contributions of glacier melt to river runoff do not exceed 15 % for both river catchments and are uncorrelated to glacierization for glacierization values >10 %. This finding, however, has to be seen in the light of the general precipitation increase with altitude for the study region which levels out the increase of absolute melt with glacierization thus resulting in the rather constant value of glacier melt contribution. In order to qualitatively proof this finding another approach has been applied by calculating the quotient qA03 of the mean monthly August runoff in 2003 and the long-term mean August runoff for 38 gauging stations in Austria. The extreme summer 2003 was worth to be analysed as from the meteorological and glaciological point of view an extraordinary situation was observed. During June and July nearly the entire snow-cover melted and during August mainly bare ice melt of glaciers contributed to runoff. The qA03 quotients were calculated between 0.32 for a non-glacierized and 2.0 for a highly glacierized catchment. Using the results of this study the mean and maximum possible glacier melt contribution of catchments can be estimated based on the relative glacierized area. It can also be shown that the found correlation of glacierized area and glacier melt contribution is applicable for the Drau basin where yet no results of modelled glacier melt contributions are available.