Glacier albedo reduction and drought effects in the extratropical Andes, 1986–2020

Thomas E. Shaw, Genesis Ulloa, David Farías-Barahona, Rodrigo Fernandez, Jose M. Lattus, James McPhee
2020 Journal of Glaciology  
Surface albedo typically dominates the mass balance of mountain glaciers, though long-term trends and patterns of glacier albedo are seldom explored. We calculated broadband shortwave albedo for glaciers in the central Chilean Andes (33–34°S) using end-of-summer Landsat scenes between 1986 and 2020. We found a high inter-annual variability of glacier-wide albedo that is largely a function of the glacier fractional snow-covered area and the total precipitation of the preceding hydrological year
more » ... hydrological year (up to 69% of the inter-annual variance explained). Under the 2010–2020 'Mega Drought' period, the mean albedo, regionally averaged ranging from ~0.25–0.5, decreased by −0.05 on average relative to 1986–2009, with the greatest reduction occurring 3500–5000 m a.s.l. In 2020, differences relative to 1986–2009 were −0.14 on average as a result of near-complete absence of late summer snow cover and the driest hydrological year since the Landsat observation period began (~90% reduction of annual precipitation relative to the 1986–2009 period). We found statistically significant, negative trends in glacier ice albedo of up to −0.03 per decade, a trend that would have serious implications for the future water security of the region, because glacier ice melt acts to buffer streamflow shortages under severe drought conditions.
doi:10.1017/jog.2020.102 fatcat:j42etmehfbexlayxkt5vmrksoi