Effect of glaciers on streamflow trends in the Swiss Alps



[1] Daily streamflow from stations close to five Swiss glaciers is analyzed for trends with the Mann-Kendall test. We consider a common period of record (1974–2004) and longer periods based on data availability. The trend statistical significance is tested on annual and seasonal bases. We also examine changes in precipitation, temperature, and snow cover characteristics. Highly glacierized basins show statistically significant positive trends in annual streamflow caused by increasing streamflow in spring and summer. Trends are more numerous and stronger at lower and mid than at the upper quantiles. The basin characterized by lower glacier coverage, conversely, does not exhibit consistently statistically significant trends. Changes in precipitation are not sufficient to explain the observed streamflow trends. Air temperature sees an increase in mean, minimum, and maximum values at all sites. Variations in the seasonal snow accumulation and ablation process are evident. Solid precipitation is decreasing at all sites and trends may be due to a shift from snowfall into rainfall. Mean snow depth is also decreasing, and its duration is getting shorter because of a decrease in solid precipitation and enhanced melting. Trend magnitude attenuates with longer time series. Contrasting trends are detected for different subperiods in the last 70 years: statistically significant negative trends are observed in the periods 1944–1974 and 1954–1984 for Aletschgletscher, in contrast with the results for the common period. These trends are explained by different rates of ice volume changes, and the sign of trends is clearly related to phases of positive or negative glacier mass balance.