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Volume 11, issue 6
The Cryosphere, 11, 2393-2409, 2017
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-11-2393-2017
© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
The Cryosphere, 11, 2393-2409, 2017
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-11-2393-2017
© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 01 Nov 2017

Research article | 01 Nov 2017

Impact of impurities and cryoconite on the optical properties of the Morteratsch Glacier (Swiss Alps)

Biagio Di Mauro1, Giovanni Baccolo2,3, Roberto Garzonio1, Claudia Giardino4, Dario Massabò5,6, Andrea Piazzalunga7, Micol Rossini1, and Roberto Colombo1 Biagio Di Mauro et al.
  • 1Remote Sensing of Environmental Dynamics Laboratory, Earth and Environmental Sciences Department, University of Milano-Bicocca, 20126 Milan, Italy
  • 2Earth and Environmental Sciences Department, University of Milano-Bicocca, 20126 Milan, Italy
  • 3National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN), Section of Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy
  • 4Institute for Electromagnetic Sensing of the Environment, National Research Council of Italy, Milan, Italy
  • 5Department of Physics, University of Genoa, Genoa, Italy
  • 6National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN), Genoa, Italy
  • 7Water & Life Lab SRL, Entratico (BG), Italy

Abstract. The amount of reflected energy by snow and ice plays a fundamental role in their melting processes. Different non-ice materials (carbonaceous particles, mineral dust (MD), microorganisms, algae, etc.) can decrease the reflectance of snow and ice promoting the melt. The object of this paper is to assess the capability of field and satellite (EO-1 Hyperion) hyperspectral data to characterize the impact of light-absorbing impurities (LAIs) on the surface reflectance of ice and snow of the Vadret da Morteratsch, a large valley glacier in the Swiss Alps. The spatial distribution of both narrow-band and broad-band indices derived from Hyperion was analyzed in relation to ice and snow impurities. In situ and laboratory reflectance spectra were acquired to characterize the optical properties of ice and cryoconite samples. The concentrations of elemental carbon (EC), organic carbon (OC) and levoglucosan were also determined to characterize the impurities found in cryoconite. Multi-wavelength absorbance spectra were measured to compare the optical properties of cryoconite samples and local moraine sediments. In situ reflectance spectra showed that the presence of impurities reduced ice reflectance in visible wavelengths by 80–90%. Satellite data also showed the outcropping of dust during the melting season in the upper parts of the glacier, revealing that seasonal input of atmospheric dust can decrease the reflectance also in the accumulation zone of the glacier. The presence of EC and OC in cryoconite samples suggests a relevant role of carbonaceous and organic material in the darkening of the ablation zone. This darkening effect is added to that caused by fine debris from lateral moraines, which is assumed to represent a large fraction of cryoconite. Possible input of anthropogenic activity cannot be excluded and further research is needed to assess the role of human activities in the darkening process of glaciers observed in recent years.

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In the paper, we demonstrate the potential of field and satellite hyperspectral reflectance data in characterizing the spatial distribution of impurities on the Morteratsch Glacier. In situ reflectance spectra showed that impurities reduced ice reflectance in visible wavelengths by 80–90 %. Satellite data also showed the outcropping of dust during the melting season in the upper parts of the glacier. Laboratory measurements of cryoconite showed the presence of elemental and organic carbon.
In the paper, we demonstrate the potential of field and satellite hyperspectral reflectance data...
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