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Volume 14, issue 8 | Copyright
Clim. Past, 14, 1119-1133, 2018
https://doi.org/10.5194/cp-14-1119-2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 09 Aug 2018

Research article | 09 Aug 2018

Testing the consistency between changes in simulated climate and Alpine glacier length over the past millennium

Hugues Goosse1, Pierre-Yves Barriat1, Quentin Dalaiden1, François Klein1, Ben Marzeion2,3, Fabien Maussion4, Paolo Pelucchi5, and Anouk Vlug3,6 Hugues Goosse et al.
  • 1Earth and Life Institute, Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
  • 2Institut für Geographie, Universität Bremen, Bremen, Germany
  • 3MARUM – Center for Marine Environmental Sciences, University of Bremen, Bremen, Germany
  • 4Department of Atmospheric and Cryospheric Sciences, Universität Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria
  • 5Imperial College, London, UK
  • 6Faculty of Geosciences, University of Bremen, Bremen, Germany

Abstract. It is standard to compare climate model results covering the past millennium and reconstructions based on various archives in order to test the ability of models to reproduce the observed climate variability. Up to now, glacier length fluctuations have not been used systematically in this framework even though they offer information on multi-decadal to centennial variations complementary to other records. One reason is that glacier length depends on several complex factors and so cannot be directly linked to the simulated climate. However, climate model skill can be measured by comparing the glacier length computed by a glacier model driven by simulated temperature and precipitation to observed glacier length variations. This is done here using the version 1.0 of the Open Global Glacier Model (OGGM) forced by fields derived from a range of simulations performed with global climate models over the past millennium. The glacier model is applied to a set of Alpine glaciers for which observations cover at least the 20th century. The observed glacier length fluctuations are generally well within the range of the simulations driven by the various climate model results, showing a general consistency with this ensemble of simulations. Sensitivity experiments indicate that the results are much more sensitive to the simulated climate than to OGGM parameters. This confirms that the simulations of glacier length can be used to evaluate the climate model performance, in particular the simulated summer temperatures that largely control the glacier changes in our region of interest. Simulated glacier length is strongly influenced by the internal variability in the system, putting limitations on the model–data comparison for some variables like the trends over the 20th century in the Alps. Nevertheless, comparison of glacier length fluctuations on longer timescales, for instance between the 18th century and the late 20th century, appear less influenced by the natural variability and indicate clear differences in the behaviour of the various climate models.

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Glaciers provide iconic illustrations of past climate change, but records of glacier length fluctuations have not been used systematically to test the ability of models to reproduce past changes. One reason is that glacier length depends on several complex factors and so cannot be simply linked to the climate simulated by models. This is done here, and it is shown that the observed glacier length fluctuations are generally well within the range of the simulations.
Glaciers provide iconic illustrations of past climate change, but records of glacier length...
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