Local- and Regional-Scale Forcing of Glacier Mass Balance Changes in the Swiss Alps

Saeideh Gharehchahi*, Thomas J. Ballinger, Jennifer L. R. Jensen, Anshuman Bhardwaj, Lydia Sam, Russell C Weaver, David R. Butler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
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Glacier mass variations are climate indicators. Therefore, it is essential to examine both winter and summer mass balance variability over a long period of time to address climate-related ice mass fluctuations. In this study we analyze glacier mass balance components and hypsometric characteristics with respect to their interactions with local meteorological variables and remote large-scale atmospheric and oceanic patterns. The results show that all selected glaciers have lost their equilibrium condition in recent decades, with persistent negative annual mass balance trends and decreasing accumulation area ratios (AARs), accompanied by increasing air temperatures of ≥+0.45 °C decade−1. The controlling factor of annual mass balance is mainly attributed to summer mass losses, which are correlated with (warming) June to September air temperatures. In addition, the interannual variability of summer and winter mass balances is primarily associated to the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), Greenland Blocking Index (GBI), and East Atlantic (EA) teleconnections. Although climate parameters are playing a significant role in determining the glacier mass balance in the region, the observed correlations and mass balance trends are in agreement with the hypsometric distribution and morphology of the glaciers. The analysis of decadal frontal retreat using Landsat images from 1984 to 2014 also supports the findings of this research, highlighting the impact of lake formation at terminus areas on rapid glacier retreat and mass loss in the Swiss Alps.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1949
Number of pages29
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 17 May 2021

Bibliographical note

This research was funded by Texas State University through the Doctoral Research Support Fellowship. Support for T.J.B. was provided by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Experimental Arctic Prediction Initiative.

Data Availability Statement
The monthly CPC teleconnections (NAO, EA, SCA) are available at the CPC website. The NAO (Cropper daily version) can be obtained from Thomas Cropper, the NAO (Hurrell version) from Climate Data Guide, and the daily GBI [53] from NOAA. The AMO monthly data is also available at NOAA.

Weather data were purchased from MeteoSwiss and delivered by Gergely Rigo. We thank Huss for sharing annual and seasonal mass balance datasets, and Klimeš for revising the earlier manuscript draft.


  • glacier mass balance
  • climate change
  • regional atmospheric circulations
  • remote sensing
  • hypsometric index
  • hypsometric integral
  • frontal retreat rate
  • swiss alps


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