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Darkening Swiss glacier ice?

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Naegeli Kathrin, Huss Matthias, Hoelzle Martin,
Project High-resolution spatial and temporal variations in albedo of ablating ice - drivers, patterns and dynamics
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal The Cryosphere Discussions
Page(s) 1 - 21
Title of proceedings The Cryosphere Discussions
DOI 10.5194/tc-2018-18

Open Access

Type of Open Access Publisher (Gold Open Access)


The albedo feedback is an important driver of glacier melt over bare-ice surfaces. Light-absorbing impurities strongly enhance glacier melt rates but their abundance, composition and variations in space and time are subject to considerable uncertainties and on-going scientific debates. In this study, we assess the temporal evolution of shortwave broadband albedo derived from 19 end-of summer Landsat scenes for the bare-ice areas of 39 large glaciers in the western and southern Swiss Alps. Trends in bare-ice albedo crucially depend on the spatial scale considered. No significant negative temporal trend in bare-ice albedo was found on a regional to glacier-wide scale. However, at higher spatial scales, certain areas of bare-ice including the lowermost elevations and margins of the ablation zones revealed significant darkening over the study period 1999 to 2016. A total glacier area of 16 km 2 (equivalent to about 12 % of the average end-of-summer bare-ice area in the study area) exhibited albedo trends significant at the 95 % confidence level or higher. Most of this area was affected by a negative albedo trend of about −0.05 per decade. Generally, bare-ice albedo exhibits a strong interannual variability, caused by a complex interplay of meteorological conditions prior to the acquisition of the data, local glacier characteristics and the date of the investigated satellite imagery. Although, a darkening of glacier ice was found to be present over only a limited region, we emphasise that due to the recent and projected growth of bare-ice areas and prolongation of the ablation season in the region, the albedo feedback will considerably enhance the rate of glacier mass loss in the Swiss Alps in the near future.