Like many comparable mountain ranges at lower latitudes, the European Alps are increasingly losing their glaciers. Following roughly 10,000 years of limited climate and glacier variability, with a slight trend of increasing glacier sizes to Holocene maximum extents of the Little Ice Age, glaciers in the Alps started to generally retreat after 1850. Long-term observations with a monitoring network of unique density document this development. Strong acceleration of mass losses started to take place after 1980 as related to accelerating atmospheric temperature rise. Model calculations, using simple to high-complexity approaches and relating to individual glaciers as well as to large samples of glaciers, provide robust results concerning scenarios for the future: under the influence of greenhouse-gas forced global warming, glaciers in the Alps will largely disappear within the 21st century. Anticipating and modeling new landscapes and land-forming processes in de-glaciating areas is an emerging research field based on modeled glacier-bed topographies that are likely to become future surface topographies. Such analyses provide a knowledge basis to early planning of sustainable adaptation strategies, for example, concerning opportunities and risks related to the formation of glacial lakes in over-deepened parts of presently still ice-covered glacier beds.
Wilfried Haeberli, Johannes Oerlemans, and Michael Zemp
Lars-Otto Reiersen and Robert W. Corell
This overview of climate observation, monitoring, and research for the Arctic region outlines the key elements essential to an enhanced understanding of the unprecedented climate change in the region and its global influences. The first recorded observation of sea ice extent around Svalbard date back to the whaling activities around 1600. Over the following 300 years there are periodic and inadequate observations of climate and sea ice from explorers seeking a northern sea route for sailing to Asia or reaching the North Pole. Around 1900 there were few fixed meteorological stations in the circumpolar North. During the Second World War and the following Cold War, the observation network increased significantly due to military interest. Since the 1970s the use of satellites has improved the climate and meteorological observations of Arctic areas, and advancements in marine observations (beneath the sea surface and within oceanic sediments) have contributed to a much improved network of climate and meteorological variables. Climate change in the Arctic and its possible effects within the Arctic and on global climate such as extreme weather and sea level rise were first reported in the ACIA 2005 report. Since then there has been a lot of climate-related assessments based on data from the Arctic and ongoing processes within the Arctic that are linked to global systems.