Get access

Past surface instability of Miage debris-covered glacier tongue (Mont Blanc Massif, Italy): a decadal-scale tree-ring-based reconstruction



Debris-covered glaciers may host several biological forms that colonize the debris cover, especially if the glacier tongue reaches sufficiently low altitudes (down to about 1700 m a.s.l. at Miage Glacier, Western Italian Alps) thus allowing also tree growth. Supraglacial trees colonizing the debris-covered tongue are strongly influenced in growth and distribution by substrate characteristics and instability. The tree age distribution at Miage Glacier presents a positive gradient towards the glacier terminus, which was found to be related to the decreasing glacier surface velocity. By analysing tree-ring growth anomalies on the glacier and at a control site at the tree line over the 20-year period 1987–2006, it was found that trees growing on the glacier presented the highest percentages of abrupt growth changes (AGCs)>+70% with respect to the four previous years. Considering tree displacement on the glacier surface over the same 20-year period and the recorded AGCs, it was found that the central-lower portion of the southern lobe towards the margins was the most unstable. The temporal analysis of AGC>+40% confirmed a period of higher glacier surface instability, reaching a maximum in the years 1988 (on lobe S) and 1989 (on lobe N), probably related to the passage of a kinematic wave in the glacier tongue. Our analysis suggests that supraglacial trees hold useful information on the glacier tongue dynamics and that both AGC>+70% and AGC>+40% may be used as a proxy for substrate instability in spatio-temporal reconstructions in the Alpine environment.