Past climate change and glaciation at the Alps-Dinarides junction

Former mountain glaciers are important analogues for understanding contemporary ice masses and their future interactions with climate. Formerly glaciated mountain landscapes are also important archives for the study of climate change during the Quaternary. The European Alps are one of the regions where geological markers of past glaciations are most abundant and well-studied. The same is, however, not true for the south-eastern corner of the Alps and neighbouring northern Dinarides, despite the fact that here the glacial history has been studied since the late nineteenth century. Several discrepancies exist among palaeoglaciological maps generated by different authors. There are also large disagreements between these empirical reconstructions and numerically modelled simulations, which predict excessive ice cover over the entire south-eastern Alps. In this project, we will improve our understanding of past climate-glacier dynamics at the Alps-Dinarides junction by combining field and model-based approaches. In particular, we will explore the spatio-temporal patterns of glacier fluctuations during the Last Glacial Cycle, the influence of different bed geology on subglacial conditions and glacier dynamics, and the past climate conditions driving the growth and recession of glaciers. Overall, this project will deliver new findings about how Pleistocene and Holocene glaciers shaped the landscape and how they reacted to past climate variability.

Relief-shaded map of Snežnik with the area of maximal glaciacion marked.
Relief-shaded map of Snežnik with the area of maximal glaciacion marked.

This project endeavours to uncover climate-glacier dynamics in the south-eastern Alps and northern Dinarides over thousands of years by

  1. providing empirical reconstruction of palaeoglaciers based on up to date geomorphological, sedimentological and geochronological evidence;
  2. simulating glacier dynamics through the Last Glacial Cycle (120–0 ka) using a modified open source Parallel Ice Sheet Model (PISM) that will take into account representative boundary conditions and parameters;
  3. quantifying the degree of fit between empirical constraints and numerical model simulations by means of robust model-data comparison to find the optimum model reconstruction and infer past climate conditions.

A cross-section of a domain around Snežnik, simulated with PISM.
A cross-section of a domain around Snežnik, simulated with PISM.

The project consists of three scientific work packages that correspond to each specific objective. First work package will produce a palaeoglaciological map of glacier extensions for different key time slices, which will rely on critically assessed geomorphological and geological information and new geochronological data. It comprises an efforts to compile the existing glacial data and to obtain new glacial evidence for several case study sites by using a fieldwork-based approach. The second work package deals with the numerical simulation of palaeoglaciers using PISM with the goal of analysing the sensitivity of PISM regarding the input parameters, e.g. temperature, precipitation corrections, etc., and to minimize the difference between its output and empirical ice-margin reconstruction. The third work package aims at assessing an optimum model simulation of palaeoglaciers by quantifying the degree of fit between empirical and numerical reconstruction. This will make inferring past climate conditions from the best-fit simulation possible.

The official webpage of the project.

Partners

Geological Survey of Slovenia (GeoZS)

Department of Geography, Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana (GEO-FF)

Jozef Stefan Institute (JSI)

P-Lab team

Gregor Kosec
Urban Duh
Matjaž Depolli
Miha Mohorčič

Funding