Ålfotbreen glacier on the western coast of Norway • Earth.com

Ålfotbreen glacier on the western coast of Norway

Today’s Image of the Day from NASA Earth Observatory features Ålfotbreen glacier, a large glacier in Norway. Ålfotbreen lies within the Ålfotbreen National Park, established to protect the natural landscape and the diverse ecosystems surrounding the glacier. 

The Ålfotbreen glacier stretches across the municipalities of Bremanger, Gloppen, and Kinn in Vestland county. This part of the Scandinavian mountain range is known for its expansive icy landscape, such as crevasses and icefalls that are typical of larger glaciers. 

Understanding climate change

The glacier is part of the larger Scandinavian glacier system and plays a significant role in the region’s hydrology. Notably, it provides fresh water for rivers and lakes. Furthermore, it serves as a vital climate indicator, with its size and mass balance reflecting changes in the climate.

Glaciers like Ålfotbreen are highly sensitive to changes in temperature and precipitation. With this is mind, they are a valuable resource for understanding climate change. 

“Ålfotbreen glacier rests on ledges of sandstone among the fjords of Norway’s western coast. The ice cap is vulnerable to changing temperatures and has been in decline since the late 1990s,” said NASA.

The Hornelen Basin

“Ålfotbreen, which is Norway’s 25th largest glacier, covers the top of a unique landscape of shingled sandstone in an area known as the Hornelen Basin. The basin was formed after tectonic plates collided and later thinned out about 400 million years ago, in the Devonian period.” 

“Sandstone mountain ledges run north to south and are often flanked by cliffs of up to 100 meters in height. As Ålfotbreen retreats, more of this unique geology is being exposed.”

Dramatic swings

According to NASA, the glacier sees dramatic swings in its surface mass between winter and summer. “This is partly due to its location along the western coast, which receives about 600 centimeters (236 inches) of annual precipitation, making it one of the wettest places in Europe.” 

“Ålfotbreen gains mass as snow accumulates over winter and loses mass as it melts over summer. Heatwaves melt snow cover earlier in the season, which exposes darker icy surfaces earlier and accelerates melting.”

Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory 

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