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Glacier–permafrost relations in a high-mountain environment: 5 decades of kinematic monitoring at the Gruben site, Swiss Alps


Gärtner-Roer, Isabelle; Brunner, Nina; Delaloye, Reynald; Haeberli, Wilfried; Kääb, Andreas; Thee, Patrick (2022). Glacier–permafrost relations in a high-mountain environment: 5 decades of kinematic monitoring at the Gruben site, Swiss Alps. The Cryosphere, 16(5):2083-2101.

Abstract

Digitized aerial images were used to monitor the evolution of perennially frozen debris and polythermal glacier ice at the intensely investigated Gruben site in the Swiss Alps over a period of about 50 years. The photogrammetric analysis allowed for a compilation of detailed spatio-temporal information on flow velocities and thickness changes. In
addition, high-resolution GNSS (global navigation satellite system) and ground surface temperature measurements were included in the analysis to provide insight into short-term changes. Over time, extremely contrasting developments and landform responses are documented. Viscous flow within the warming and already near-temperate rock glacier permafrost continued at a constant average but seasonally variable speed of typically decimetres per
year, with average surface lowering limited to centimetres to a few decimetres per year. This constant flow causes the continued advance of the characteristic convex, lava-stream-like rock glacier with its oversteepened fronts. Thawing rates of ice-rich perennially frozen ground to strong climate forcing are very low (centimetres per year) and the dynamic response strongly delayed (timescale of decades to centuries). The adjacent cold debris-covered glacier tongue remained an essentially concave landform with diffuse margins, predominantly chaotic surface structure, intermediate thickness losses (decimetres per year), and clear signs of down-wasting and decreasing flow velocity. The former contact zone between the cold glacier margin and the upper part of the rock glacier with disappearing remains of buried glacier ice embedded on top of frozen debris exhibits complex phenomena of thermokarst in massive ice and backflow towards the topographic depression produced by the retreating glacier tongue. As is typical for glaciers in the Alps, the largely debris-free glacier part shows a rapid response (timescale of years) to strong climatic forcing with spectacular retreat (>10 m a−1) and mass loss (up to >1 m w.e. specific mass loss per year). The system of periglacial lakes shows a correspondingly dynamic evolution and had to be controlled by engineering work for hazard protection.

Abstract

Digitized aerial images were used to monitor the evolution of perennially frozen debris and polythermal glacier ice at the intensely investigated Gruben site in the Swiss Alps over a period of about 50 years. The photogrammetric analysis allowed for a compilation of detailed spatio-temporal information on flow velocities and thickness changes. In
addition, high-resolution GNSS (global navigation satellite system) and ground surface temperature measurements were included in the analysis to provide insight into short-term changes. Over time, extremely contrasting developments and landform responses are documented. Viscous flow within the warming and already near-temperate rock glacier permafrost continued at a constant average but seasonally variable speed of typically decimetres per
year, with average surface lowering limited to centimetres to a few decimetres per year. This constant flow causes the continued advance of the characteristic convex, lava-stream-like rock glacier with its oversteepened fronts. Thawing rates of ice-rich perennially frozen ground to strong climate forcing are very low (centimetres per year) and the dynamic response strongly delayed (timescale of decades to centuries). The adjacent cold debris-covered glacier tongue remained an essentially concave landform with diffuse margins, predominantly chaotic surface structure, intermediate thickness losses (decimetres per year), and clear signs of down-wasting and decreasing flow velocity. The former contact zone between the cold glacier margin and the upper part of the rock glacier with disappearing remains of buried glacier ice embedded on top of frozen debris exhibits complex phenomena of thermokarst in massive ice and backflow towards the topographic depression produced by the retreating glacier tongue. As is typical for glaciers in the Alps, the largely debris-free glacier part shows a rapid response (timescale of years) to strong climatic forcing with spectacular retreat (>10 m a−1) and mass loss (up to >1 m w.e. specific mass loss per year). The system of periglacial lakes shows a correspondingly dynamic evolution and had to be controlled by engineering work for hazard protection.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
Dewey Decimal Classification:910 Geography & travel
Scopus Subject Areas:Physical Sciences > Water Science and Technology
Physical Sciences > Earth-Surface Processes
Uncontrolled Keywords:Earth-Surface Processes, Water Science and Technology
Language:English
Date:31 May 2022
Deposited On:04 Aug 2022 09:18
Last Modified:27 Jun 2024 01:38
Publisher:Copernicus Publications
ISSN:1994-0416
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-16-2083-2022
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: English
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)