Snow-cover dynamics and mass balance on mountain glaciers

A research project on Hintereisferner financed by the Austrian FWF and the German DFG

An automated Terrestrial Laser Scanner at Hintereisferner * Foto: G. Kaser

Glaciers contribute to sea level rise and to local and regional water supply. Moreover, they are highly evident indicators of climate change. Mountain glaciers and their mass changes are particularly difficult to measure and to detect, mostly for inconvenient logistical circumstances. As a result, only from few glaciers we have annually reported bulk mass balance information from which researchers extrapolate to larger and unobserved regions with considerable uncertainties. This unsatisfying situation can be substantially improved when analyzing the mass and energy fluxes that drive glacier changes using (spatially) distributed modeling at high temporal resolution. The largest unknown to be overcome is the development of the snow cover from precipitation to wind-induced redistribution and densification and, finally, its degradation. 

The seasonal duration of the snow cover depends on these processes and, through its high reflectivity against sunshine, dominates the wellbeing of a glacier. Theory and understanding of processes is well advanced and models are ready to be tested and used, yet respective measurements are missing. We will combine the expertise of our team members from the Universities of Innsbruck, Erlangen-Nuremberg and Saskatchewan with the logistically suitable, data rich, and well equipped Hintereisferner in the Ötztal Alps, Austria, for developing and calibrating novel model tools that can push mass balance studies a large step forward in glaciology. In the end we aim to obtain an effective parameterization of snow drift, which will not only increase the process understanding of glacier-climate interactions, but also be available for future studies of glaciers in climatic settings around the world.

Project Leader: 
External Members: 

Tobias Sauter and Thomas Mölg (University of Erlangen)

John Pomeroy (Saskachuan)

Funding Agencies: 
Project Duration: 
11/01/2018 to 10/31/2021