We use a simplified glacier-landscape model to investigate the degree to which basin topography, climate regime, and vegetation succession impact centennial variations in basin runoff during glacier retreat. In all simulations, annual basin runoff initially increases as water is released from glacier storage but ultimately decreases to below preretreat levels due to increases in evapotranspiration and decreases in orographic precipitation. We characterize the long-term (> 200 years) annual basin runoff curves with four metrics: the magnitude and timing of peak basin runoff, the time to preretreat basin runoff, and the magnitude of end basin runoff. We find that basin slope and climate regime have strong impacts on the magnitude and timing of peak basin runoff. Shallow sloping basins exhibit a later and larger peak basin runoff than steep basins and, similarly, continental glaciers produce later and larger peak basin runoff compared to maritime glaciers. Vegetation succession following glacier loss has little impact on the peak basin runoff but becomes increasingly important as time progresses, with more rapid and extensive vegetation leading to shorter times to preretreat basin runoff and lower levels of end basin runoff. We suggest that differences in the magnitude and timing of peak basin runoff in our simulations can largely be attributed to glacier dynamics: glaciers with long response times (i.e., those that respond slowly to climate change) are pushed farther out of equilibrium for a given climate forcing and produce larger variations in basin runoff than glaciers with short response times. Overall, our results demonstrate that glacier dynamics and vegetation succession should receive roughly equal attention when assessing the impacts of glacier mass loss on water resources.

Citation

Carnahan, E., Amundson, J., and Hood, E.. 2019. Impact of glacier loss and vegetation succession on annual basin runoff. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences. 23: 1667-1681. https://www.hydrol-earth-syst-sci.net/23/1667/2019/. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-23-1667-2019.