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Climatic Interpretation of Alpine Snowline Variations on Millennial Time Scales

  • Geoffrey O. Seltzer


The depression of snowlines, or equilibrium-line altitudes, of alpine glaciers is often used by glacial geologists to infer variations in mass balance. The climatic interpretation of snowline depression, however, is complicated by the number of factors that control glacier mass balance. The simple lapse-rate method of temperature interpretation ignores the effects of changes in radiation and snow accumulation. The statistical approach to temperature interpretation, which regresses precipitation and temperature against snowline altitude, neglects the effect of radiation. The most comprehensive approach for the climatic interpretation of snowline depression couples the heat and mass balances of a glacier surface. A sensitivity analysis that utilizes the coupled heat- and mass-balance approach indicates that the ∼1000-m variation in snowline of alpine glaciers on glacial-to-interglacial time scales could be a result of significant changes in temperature, and to a lesser extent changes in insolation. Snowline variations are sensitive only to relatively large changes in annual accumulation, which should also be evident in other proxy records of moisture change. The approaches outlined here provide glacial geologists with a summary of how various climatic forcings associated with glaciation may be quantified from snowline data.



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Quaternary Research
  • ISSN: 0033-5894
  • EISSN: 1096-0287
  • URL: /core/journals/quaternary-research
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