Articles | Volume 10, issue 6
Research article
30 Nov 2016
Research article |  | 30 Nov 2016

Local reduction of decadal glacier thickness loss through mass balance management in ski resorts

Andrea Fischer, Kay Helfricht, and Martin Stocker-Waldhuber

Abstract. For Austrian glacier ski resorts, established in the 1970s and 1980s during a period of glacier advance, negative mass balances with resulting glacier area loss and decrease in surface elevation present an operational challenge. Glacier cover, snow farming, and technical snow production were introduced as adaptation measures based on studies on the effect of these measures on energy and mass balance. After a decade of the application of the various measures, we studied the transition from the proven short-term effects of the measures on mass balance to long-term effects on elevation changes. Based on lidar digital elevation models and differential GPS measurements, decadal surface elevation changes in 15 locations with mass balance management were compared to those without measures (apart from piste grooming) in five Tyrolean ski resorts on seven glaciers. The comparison of surface elevation changes presents clear local differences in mass change, and it shows the potential to retain local ice thickness over 1 decade. Locally up to 21.1 m ± 0.4 m of ice thickness was preserved on mass balance managed areas compared to non-maintained areas over a period of 9 years. In this period, mean annual thickness loss in 15 of the mass balance managed profiles is 0.54 ± 0.04 m yr−1 lower (−0.23 ± 0.04 m yr−1on average) than in the respective reference areas (−0.78 ± 0.04 m yr−1).

At two of these profiles the surface elevation was preserved altogether, which is promising for a sustainable maintenance of the infrastructure at glacier ski resorts. In general the results demonstrate the high potential of the combination of mass balance management by snow production and glacier cover, not only in the short term but also for multi-year application to maintain the skiing infrastructure.

Short summary
In the Alps, glacier cover, snow farming and technical snow production were introduced as adaptation measures to climate change one decade ago. Comparing elevation changes in areas with and without mass balance management in five ski resorts showed that locally up to 20 m of ice thickness was preserved compared to non-maintained areas. The method can be applied to maintainance of skiing infrastructure but has also some potential for melt management at high and dry glaciers.