Thinning of the Monte Perdido Glacier in the Spanish Pyrenees since 1981
- 1Dept. of Geoenvironmental Processes and Global Change, Pyrenean Institute of Ecology, CSIC, Campus de Aula Dei, P.O. Box 13.034, 50.080 Zaragoza, Spain
- 2Dept. of Geography, University of the Basque Country, Prehistory and Archeology, Vitoria, Spain
- 3Dept. of Geography, University of Zaragoza, Zaragoza, Spain
- 4Dept. of Graphic Design and Engineering, University of Zaragoza, Huesca, Spain
- 5Dept. of Geography, University of Valladolid, Valladolid, Spain
Abstract. This paper analyzes the evolution of the Monte Perdido Glacier, the third largest glacier in the Pyrenees, from 1981 to the present. We assessed the evolution of the glacier's surface area by analysis of aerial photographs from 1981, 1999, and 2006, and changes in ice volume by geodetic methods with digital elevation models (DEMs) generated from topographic maps (1981 and 1999), airborne lidar (2010) and terrestrial laser scanning (TLS, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014) data. We interpreted the changes in the glacier based on climate data from nearby meteorological stations. The results indicate that the degradation of this glacier accelerated after 1999. The rate of ice surface loss was almost three times greater during 1999–2006 than during earlier periods. Moreover, the rate of glacier thinning was 1.85 times faster during 1999–2010 (rate of surface elevation change = −8.98 ± 1.80 m, glacier-wide mass balance = −0.73 ± 0.14 m w.e. yr−1) than during 1981–1999 (rate of surface elevation change = −8.35 ± 2.12 m, glacier-wide mass balance = −0.42 ± 0.10 m w.e. yr−1). From 2011 to 2014, ice thinning continued at a slower rate (rate of surface elevation change = −1.93 ± 0.4 m yr−1, glacier-wide mass balance = −0.58 ± 0.36 m w.e. yr−1). This deceleration in ice thinning compared to the previous 17 years can be attributed, at least in part, to two consecutive anomalously wet winters and cool summers (2012–2013 and 2013–2014), counteracted to some degree by the intense thinning that occurred during the dry and warm 2011–2012 period. However, local climatic changes observed during the study period do not seem sufficient to explain the acceleration of ice thinning of this glacier, because precipitation and air temperature did not exhibit statistically significant trends during the study period. Rather, the accelerated degradation of this glacier in recent years can be explained by a strong disequilibrium between the glacier and the current climate, and likely by other factors affecting the energy balance (e.g., increased albedo in spring) and feedback mechanisms (e.g., heat emitted from recently exposed bedrock and debris covered areas).