Integrated research on mountain glaciers: Current status, priorities and future prospects
Mountain glaciers are sensitive probes of the local climate, and, thus, they present an opportunity and a challenge to interpret climates of the past and to predict future changes. Furthermore, glaciers can constitute hazards, including: glacier outburst floods; changes in the magnitude and timing of runoff in the mountains and adjacent regions; and, through worldwide loss of glacier ice, a global rise in sea level. To understand and ultimately to predict the dynamics and nature of climate and associated glacial and hydrological changes requires an integrated approach with communication and collaboration among glaciologists, glacial geologists, atmospheric scientists, geomorphologists, geochronologists, and tectonists. Current strategies of research are evolving towards integrating research on mountain glaciers to address key scientific, socio-economic and political issues. Given the rapid birth and growth of new technologies and tools with which to study glaciers and glacial landscapes, this community stands poised to address many of these challenges in the near future. The key challenges that must be met soon include: 1) determining the spatial-temporal pattern of fluctuations of mountain glaciers from the last glacial cycle through the present; 2) relating historical and past fluctuations in glaciers to variability in the primary features of ocean-atmospheric circulation; 3) identifying important but poorly understood processes controlling the motion and erosion of glaciers; 4) developing and expanding the application of numerical models of glaciers; 5) modeling the evolution of mountain landscapes in the face of repeated glaciation; 6) examining the climate and the balance of energy and mass at the surface of glaciers; 7) characterizing the role of intrinsic climate variability on glacier variations; and 8) predicting the distribution, sizes, and nature of glaciers in the future. While these ambitious goals are achievable and the research tools exist, success will require significant bridging between the existing research communities involved and ambitious integration of research on mountain glaciers.