Sustainability in Alpine Proglacial Zones: Using the 2003 European Heat Wave to Assess the Implications of Global Warming on Sediment Transport Processes

By Tim Stott and Nick Mount.

Published by The Sustainability Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The International Panel for Climate Change (2001) reported that average global surface air temperature increased by 0.6±0.2 °C since the late 19th century and is projected to increase by 1.4–5.8 °C between 1990–2100 (approx 0.2 to 0.5 °C per decade). The response of hydrological systems, erosion processes and sedimentation in Alpine regions could therefore alter significantly due to climate change. Suspended sediment fluxes in the Glacier Noir proglacial zone in the Ecrins National Park, French Alps, have been monitored for 15-20 days in July 2003, 2004, and 2005. Discharge and turbidity were monitored at 10-min intervals and suspended sediment concentrations in 60-72 water samples collected in each season at a range of discharge values were obtained gravimetrically, and used to calibrate turbidity sensors from which suspended sediment loads were estimated. Excluding rainstorms in 2005, the common data from 11-17 July for each melt season allow us to assess the impact of the unusually warm 2003 melt season when a Europe wide heat wave prevailed for over three months. Daily mean daily air temperature at the site in 2003, 2004 and 2005 was 16.5, 10.4 and 14.0 °C; corresponding daily mean discharge was 5.5, 1.1, and 3.0 m³ sֿ¹ (or 171, 36 and 95% of the 3-year mean) and daily mean suspended sediment load was 777, 27, 343 t respectively (or 203, 7 and 90% of the 3-year mean). These data suggest that rises in temperature as predicted by current global warming models could propagate disproportionate increases in suspended sediment loads. An improved understanding of suspended sediment dynamics in proglacial zones is important since such zones are likely to expand in a warmer climate. Proglacial zones may become even more important in controlling downstream suspended sediment loads, which have important implications for the hydroelectricity industry, stream ecology, river sedimentation and channel dynamics in lowland river systems.

Keywords: Global Warming, Proglacial Zones, Suspended Sediment Loads

The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, Volume 3, Issue 6, pp.123-136. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.337MB).

Prof. Tim Stott

Reader in Physical Geography & Outdoor Education, Faculty of Education, Community & Leisure, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, Merseyside, UK

Dr Stott is a Reader in Physical Geography & Outdoor Education at Liverpool John Moores University where he is Curriculum Leader for Outdoor Education Programmes. His research interests are in fluvial geomorphology and he currently works in proglacial areas in the French Alps where he is investigating the impacts of climate change on glacial meltwaters and sediment transport processes. He has a long standing interest in environmental sustainability which he pursues through his research, through his teaching in environmental education and via his membership of organisations and professional bodies such as the Alternative Technology Association and Royal Geographical Society.

Dr Nick Mount

Lecturer, School of Geography, University of Nottingham, UK

Dr Mount is a Lecturer in GIS and Physical Geography in the School of Geography and the University of Nottingham, UK. His research interests are in fluvial geomorphology and GIS applications. He currently works in proglacial areas in the French Alps where he is investigating the impacts of climate change on glacial meltwaters and sediment transport processes.

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