Little Ice Age glaciers and climate in the Mediterranean mountains: a new analysis

P.D. Hughes

Abstract


Glaciers were common across the Mediterranean mountains during the Little Ice Age. In parts of Turkey some glaciers were several kilometres longer than they are today, whilst in the Pyrenees glaciers were up to several hundred metres longer. In the wettest Mediterranean mountains, such as the Dinaric Alps, many small glaciers and perennial snow patches would have been present. Even in driest and most southerly mountains, such as the High Atlas, small glaciers and perennial snowfields were present. This paper examines the evidence from these two contrasting regions (the western and southern Balkans and the High Atlas) and the climatic significance of glaciers in these areas during the Little Ice Age. Particular focus is given on the climatological controls on glacier mass balance in different climatic conditions. Glaciers in cold and dry climates exhibit different sensitivity to regional climate change compared with glaciers in cold and wet climates. In addition, the factors controlling ablation of glaciers in different climatic regimes can differ considerably, especially the relative contributions and effects of melting and sublimation. All Mediterranean mountain glaciers were strongly controlled by local topoclimatic factors. Avalanche-fed glaciers have proven to be the most resilient to climate change and dramatically increased accumulation from avalanching snow explains the surviving glaciers in the Dinaric Alps and the semi-perennial snow fields of the High Atlas. In addition, geology as well as landscape morphology inherited from Pleistocene glaciations plays a role in explaining the patterns of Little Ice Age glacier distribution and especially the patterns of retreat and survival of these glaciers. The resilience of some of the last remaining Mediterranean glaciers, in the face of warming climate, presents a contradiction and comparisons between glaciers gone and those that remain provides important insight into the future of similar glaciers globally.


Keywords


very small glaciers; glacierets; niche glaciers; cirque glaciers; glacier sensitivity; melting snow; sublimation; climate change; Dinaric Alps; Pindus Mountains; High Atlas

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References


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.18172/cig.3362

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