• radiocarbon dating;
  • solar irradiance;
  • glacier mass balance


We present a radiocarbon data set of 71 samples of wood and peat material that melted out or sheared out from underneath eight presentday mid-latitude glaciers in the Central Swiss Alps. Results indicated that in the past several glaciers have been repeatedly less extensive than they were in the 1990s. The periods when glaciers had a smaller volume and shorter length persisted between 320 and 2500 years. This data set provides greater insight into glacier variability than previously possible, especially for the early and middle Holocene. The radiocarbon-dated periods defined with less extensive glaciers coincide with periods of reduced radio-production, pointing to a connection between solar activity and glacier melting processes. Measured long-term series of glacier length variations show significant correlation with the total solar irradiance. Incoming solar irradiance and changing albedo can account for a direct forcing of the glacier mass balances. Long-term investigations of atmospheric processes that are in interaction with changing solar activity are needed in order to understand the feedback mechanisms with glacier mass balances.