Models are developed to simulate changes in permafrost distribution and glacier size in mountain areas. The models exclusively consider equilibrium conditions. As a first application, the simplified assumption is used that one single parameter (mean annual air temperature) is changing.
Permafrost distribution patterns are estimated for a test area (Corvatsch-Furtschellas) and for the whole Upper Engadin region (eastern Swiss Alps) using a relation between permafrost occurrence as indicated by BTS (bottom temperature of the winter snow cover) measurements, potential direct solar radiation and mean annual air temperature. Glacier sizes were assessed in the same region with data from the World Glacier Inventory database. The simulations for the glaciers are based on the assumption that an increase or decrease in equilibrium-line altitude (ELA) would lead to a mass-balance change. Model calculations for potential future changes in ELA and mass balance include estimated developments of area, length and volume. Mass changes were also calculated for the time period 1850–1973 on the basis of measured cumulative length change, glacier length and estimated ablation at the glacier terminus.
For the time period since 1850, permafrost became inactive or disappeared in about 15% of the area originally underlain by permafrost in the whole Upper Engadin region, and mean annual glacier mass balance was calculated as −0.26 to −0.46 m w.e.a−1 for the larger glaciers in the same area. The estimated loss in glacier volume since 1850 lies between 55% and 66% of the original value. With an assumed increase in mean annual air temperature of +3°C, the area of supposed permafrost occurrence would possibly be reduced by about 65% with respect to present-day conditions and only three glaciers would continue to partially exist.
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