Estimating surface water availability in high mountain rock slopes using a numerical energy balance model - Université Savoie Mont Blanc Access content directly
Journal Articles Earth Surface Dynamics Year : 2023

Estimating surface water availability in high mountain rock slopes using a numerical energy balance model

Abstract

Abstract. Water takes part in most physical processes that shape mountainous periglacial landscapes and initiation of mass-wasting processes. An observed increase in rockfall activity in high mountain regions was previously linked to permafrost degradation, and water that infiltrates into rock fractures is one of the likely drivers of processes related to thawing and destabilization. However, there is very little knowledge of the quantity and timing of water availability for infiltration into steep rock slopes. This knowledge gap originates from the complex meteorological, hydrological, and thermal processes that control snowmelt, as well as challenging access and data acquisition in extreme alpine environments. Here we use field measurements and numerical modeling to simulate the energy balance and hydrological fluxes on a steep high-elevation permafrost-affected rock slope at Aiguille du Midi (3842 m a.s.l, France), in the Mont Blanc massif. Our results provide new information about water balance at the surface of steep rock slopes. Model results suggest that only ∼ 25 % of the snowfall accumulates in our study site; the remaining ∼ 75 % is likely transported downslope by wind and gravity. The snowpack thickness was found to decrease with surface slopes between 40 and 70∘. We found that among all water fluxes, sublimation is the main process of snowpack mass loss at our study site. Snowmelt occurs between spring and late summer, but most of it may not reach the rock surface due to refreezing and the formation of an impermeable ice layer at the base of the snowpack, which was observed at the field site. The annual snowmelt that is available for infiltration (i.e., effective snowmelt) is highly variable in the simulated years 1959–2021, and its onset occurs mostly between May and August and ends before October. By applying the model to a range of altitudes, we show that effective snowmelt is the main source of water for infiltration above 3600 m a.s.l.; below, direct rainfall on the snow-free surface is the dominant source. This change from snowmelt- to rainfall-dominated water input leads to an abrupt, nonlinear increase in water availability at altitudes below 3600 m a.s.l and may point to higher sensitivity of permafrost-affected rock slopes to climate change at these altitudes.

Dates and versions

hal-04287347 , version 1 (15-11-2023)

Identifiers

Cite

Matan Ben-Asher, Florence Magnin, Sebastian Westermann, Josué Bock, Emmanuel Malet, et al.. Estimating surface water availability in high mountain rock slopes using a numerical energy balance model. Earth Surface Dynamics, 2023, 11 (5), pp.899-915. ⟨10.5194/esurf-11-899-2023⟩. ⟨hal-04287347⟩
7 View
0 Download

Altmetric

Share

Gmail Facebook X LinkedIn More