ENSO influence on surface energy and mass balance at Shallap Glacier, Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Abstract. The El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a major driver of climate variability in the tropical Andes, where recent Niño and Niña events left an observable footprint on glacier mass balance. The nature and strength of the relationship between ENSO and glacier mass balance, however, varies between regions and time periods, leaving several unanswered questions about its exact mechanisms. The starting point of this study is a 4-year long time series of distributed surface energy and mass balance (SEB/SMB) calculated using a process-based model driven by observations at Shallap Glacier (Cordillera Blanca, Peru). These data are used to calibrate a regression-based downscaling model that links the local SEB/SMB fluxes to atmospheric reanalysis variables on a monthly basis, allowing an unprecedented quantification of the ENSO influence on the SEB/SMB at climatological time scales (1980–2013, ERA-Interim period). We find a stronger and steadier anti-correlation between Pacific sea-surface temperature (SST) and glacier mass balance than previously reported. This relationship is most pronounced during the wet season (December–May) and at low altitudes where Niño (Niña) events are accompanied with a snowfall deficit (excess) and a higher (lower) radiation energy input. We detect a weaker but significant ENSO anti-correlation with total precipitation (Niño dry signal) and positive correlation with the sensible heat flux, but find no ENSO influence on sublimation. Sensitivity analyses comparing several downscaling methods and reanalysis data sets resulted in stable mass balance correlations with Pacific SST but also revealed large uncertainties in computing the mass balance trend of the last decades. The newly introduced open-source downscaling tool can be applied easily to other glaciers in the tropics, opening new research possibilities on even longer time scales.