The impact of Saharan dust events on long-term glacier mass balance in the Alps

Monday, 15 December 2014
Andreas Bauder1, Jeannette Gabbi1, Matthias Huss1 and Margit Schwikowski2, (1)ETH Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland, (2)Paul Scherrer Institute, Villingen, Switzerland

Saharan dust falls are frequently observed in the Alpine region and are easily recognized by the unique yellowish coloration of the snow surface. Such Saharan dust events contribute to a large part to the total mineral dust deposited in snow and impact the surface energy budget by reducing the snow and ice albedo. In this study we investigate the long-term effect of such Saharan dust events on the surface albedo and the glacier's mass balance. The analysis is performed over the period 1914-2013 for two field sites on Claridenfirn, Swiss Alps, where an outstanding 100-year record of seasonal mass balance measurements is available. Based on the detailed knowledge about the mass balance, annual melt and accumulation rates are derived. A firn/ice core drilled at the glacier saddle of Colle Gnifetti (Swiss Alps) provides information on the impurity concentration in precipitation over the last century. A mass balance model combined with a parameterization for snow and ice albedo based on the specific surface area of snow and the snow impurity concentration is employed to assess the dust-albedo feedback. In order to track the position and thickness of snow layers a snow density model is implemented. Atmospheric dust enters the system of snow layers by precipitation and remains in the corresponding layer as long as there is no melt. When melt occurs, the water-insoluble part of the dust of the melted snow is supposed to accumulate in the top surface layer. The upper site has experienced only positive net mass balance and dust layers are continuously buried so that the impact of strong Saharan dust events is mainly restricted to the corresponding year. In the case of the lower site, the surface albedo is more strongly influenced by dust events of previous years due to periods with negative mass balances. Model results suggest that the enhanced melting in the 1940s yield even higher dust concentrations in 1947 compared to years with exceptional high Saharan dust deposition due to the accumulation of dust at the surface as the corresponding site migrates from accumulation to ablation area.