Articles | Volume 7, issue 1
Research article
15 Jan 2013
Research article |  | 15 Jan 2013

Climatic drivers of seasonal glacier mass balances: an analysis of 6 decades at Glacier de Sarennes (French Alps)

E. Thibert, N. Eckert, and C. Vincent

Abstract. Refined temporal signals extracted from a winter and summer mass balance series recorded at Glacier de Sarennes (French Alps) using variance decomposition are related to local meteorological data and large-scale North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) anomalies in terms of interannual variability, trends of the low-frequency signals, and breaks in the time series. The winter balance has increased by +23% since 1976 due to more precipitation in early and late winter. The summer balance has decreased since 1982 due to a 43% increase in snow and ice melt. A 24-day lengthening of the ablation period – mainly due to longer ice ablation – is the main component in the overall increase in ablation. In addition, the last 25 yr have seen increases in ablation rates of 14 and 10% for snow and ice, respectively. A simple degree-day analysis can account for both the snow/ice melt rate rise and the lengthening of the ablation period as a function of higher air temperatures. From the same analysis, the equilibrium-line altitude of this 45° N latitude south-facing glacier has a sensitivity to temperature of +93 m °C−1 around its mean elevation of 3100 m a.s.l. over 6 decades. The sensitivity of summer balance to temperature is −0.62 m w.e. yr−1 °C−1 for a typical 125-day-long ablation season. Finally, the correlation of winter and summer mass balance terms with NAO anomalies is investigated. Singularly, highest values are obtained between winter NAO anomalies and summer balance. Winter NAO anomalies and winter balance and precipitation are almost disconnected. However, these results strongly depend on how the NAO signal is smoothed, so that the link between Sarennes mass balance seasonal terms and NAO signal remains tenuous and hard to interpret.