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Towards a palaeoclimatic model of rock-glacier formation in the Swiss Alps

  • Regula Frauenfelder (a1) and Andreas Kääb (a1)

Abstract

Climate and its long-term variability govern ground thermal conditions, and for this reason represent one of the most important impacts on creeping mountain permafrost. The decoding and better understanding of the present-day morphology and distribution of rock glaciers opens up a variety of insights into past and present environmental, especially climatic, conditions on a local to regional scale. The present study was carried out in the Swiss Alps using two different approaches: (1) kinematic analysis of specific active rock glaciers, and (2) description of the altitudinal distribution of relict rock glaciers. Two theoretical shape concepts of active rock-glacier morphology were derived’ a"monomorphic" type, representing presumably undisturbed, continuous development over several millennia and a ˚polymorphic" type, reflecting a system of (possibly climatically affected) individual creep streams several centuries old. The topoclimatic-based inventory analysis indicated an average temperature increase at relict rock-glacier fronts of approximately +2°C since the time of their decay, which is a sign of rock-glacier ages reaching back to the Alpine Late Glacial. The temperature difference of some tenths of a degree Celsius found for active/inactive rock glaciers is typical for the bandwidth of Holocene climate variations. These results confirm the importance of Alpine rock glaciers as highly sensitive indicators of past temperature evolution.

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References

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Annals of Glaciology
  • ISSN: 0260-3055
  • EISSN: 1727-5644
  • URL: /core/journals/annals-of-glaciology
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