Articles | Volume 3, issue 2
20 Oct 2009
 | 20 Oct 2009

Quantifying changes and trends in glacier area and volume in the Austrian Ötztal Alps (1969-1997-2006)

J. Abermann, A. Lambrecht, A. Fischer, and M. Kuhn

Abstract. In this study we apply a simple and reliable method to derive recent changes in glacier area and volume by taking advantage of high resolution LIDAR (light detection and ranging) DEMs (digital elevation models) from the year 2006. Together with two existing glacier inventories (1969 and 1997) the new dataset enables us to quantify area and volume changes over the past 37 years at three dates. This has been done for 81 glaciers (116 km2) in the Ötztal Alps which accounts for almost one third of Austria's glacier extent. Glacier area and volume have reduced drastically with significant differences within the individual size classes. Between 1997 and 2006 an overall area loss of 10.5 km2 or 8.2% occurred. Volume has reduced by 1.0 km3 which accounts for a mean thickness change of −8.2 m. The availability of three comparable inventories allows a comprehensive size and altitude dependent analysis of glacier changes but lacks a high temporal resolution. For the comparison of rates of changes between the two different periods (1969 to 1997 with 1997 to 2006) we propose two approaches in this study: a) to estimate mean overall rates of changes (including a period of advance) and b) to extract periods of net-retreat by using additional information (length change and mass balance measurements). Analysis of the resulting acceleration factors reveals that the retreat of volume and mean thickness changes has accelerated significantly more than that of area changes.