Infoscience

Journal article

Local Extremes In The Lidar-Derived Snow Cover Of Alpine Glaciers

Snow deposition and redistribution are major drivers of snow cover dynamics in mountainous terrain and contribute to the mass balance of alpine glaciers. The quantitative understanding of inhomogeneous snow distribution in mountains has recently benefited from advances in measuring technologies, such as airborne laser scanning (ALS). This contribution further advances the quantitative understanding of snow distribution by analysing the areas of maximum surface elevation changes in a mountain catchment with large and small glaciers. Using multi-annual ALS observations, we found extreme surface elevation changes on rather thin borders along the glacier margins. While snow depth distribution patterns in less extreme terrain have presented high inter-annual persistence, there is little persistence of those extreme glacier accumulations between winters. We therefore interpret the lack of persistence as the result of a predominance of gravity-driven redistribution, which has an inherently higher random component because it does not occur with all conditions in all winters. In highly crevassed zones, the lidar-derived surface elevation changes are caused by a complex interaction of ice flux divergence, the propagation of crevasses and snow accumulation. In general, the relative contribution of gravitational mass transport to glacier snow cover volume was found to decrease for glaciers larger than 5 km(2) in the investigated region. We therefore suggest that extreme accumulations caused by gravitational snow transport play a significant role in the glacier mass balance of small to medium-size glaciers and that they may be successfully parameterized by simple mass redistribution algorithms, which have been presented in the literature.

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