Articles | Volume 5, issue 1
The Cryosphere, 5, 231–243, 2011
The Cryosphere, 5, 231–243, 2011

Research article 21 Mar 2011

Research article | 21 Mar 2011

Evidence of accelerated englacial warming in the Monte Rosa area, Switzerland/Italy

M. Hoelzle1, G. Darms2, M. P. Lüthi3, and S. Suter4 M. Hoelzle et al.
  • 1Department of Geosciences, University of Fribourg, 1700 Fribourg, Switzerland
  • 2Department of Geography, University of Zurich, 8050 Zürich, Switzerland
  • 3Laboratory of Hydraulics, Hydrology and Glaciology, ETH Zürich, 8092 Zürich, Switzerland
  • 4Department of Construction, Traffic and Environment, Canton of Aargau, 5001 Aarau, Switzerland

Abstract. A range of englacial temperature measurements was acquired in the Monte Rosa area at the border of Switzerland and Italy in the years 1982, 1991, 1994, 1995, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2007 and 2008. Englacial temperatures revealed no evidence of warming at the firn saddle of Colle Gnifetti at 4452 m a.s.l. between 1982 and 1991, the 1991 to 2000 period showed an increase of 0.05 °C per year at a depth of 20 m. From 2000 to 2008 a further increase of 1.3 °C or 0.16 °C per year was observed, indicating that the amount of infiltrating and refreezing meltwater at Colle Gnifetti has probably increased since 2000. The measured temperatures give clear evidence of firn warming since 1991. This is confirmed by five existing boreholes with measured temperature down to bedrock, which were drilled in 1982, 1995, 2003 and 2005. All the observed temperature profiles show a slight bending to warmer temperatures in their uppermost part indicating a warming of the firn, which can be related to the observed atmospheric warming in the 20th century. However, the drilling sites on Colle Gnifetti are still located in the recrystallisation-infiltration zone.

A much stronger warming of 6.8 °C or 0.4 °C per year was found at locations beneath Colle Gnifetti on Grenzgletscher from 1991 to 2008. This warming is one order of magnitude greater than the atmospheric warming and can be explained only by a strong increase in the latent heat input by infiltrating and refreezing meltwater. The observations indicate that since 1991, an important firn area beneath Colle Gnifetti has already undergone a firn facies change from the recrystallisation-infiltration to the cold infiltration zone due to an increasing supply of surface melt energy.