Long-term mass balance of perennial firn and ice in an Alpine cave (Austria): Constraints from radiocarbon-dated wood fragments

Christoph Spötl, Paula J Reimer, Marc Luetscher

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31 Citations (Scopus)


Hundsalm ice cave located at 1520 m altitude in a karst region of western Austria contains up to 7-m-thick deposits of snow, firn and congelation ice. Wood fragments exposed in the lower parts of an ice and firn wall were radiocarbon accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) dated. Although the local stratigraphy is complex, the 19 individual dates - the largest currently available radiocarbon dataset for an Alpine ice cave - allow to place constraints on the accumulation and ablation history of the cave ice. Most of the cave was either ice free or contained only a small firn and ice body during the 'Roman Warm Period'; dates of three wood fragments mark the onset of firn and ice build-up in the 6th and 7th century ad. In the central part of the cave, the oldest samples date back to the 13th century and record ice growth coeval with the onset of the 'Little Ice Age'. The majority of the ice and firn deposit, albeit compromised by a disturbed stratigraphy, appears to have been formed during the subsequent centuries, supported by wood samples from the 15th to the 17th century. The oldest wood remains found so far inside the ice is from the end of the Bronze Age and implies that local relics of prehistoric ice may be preserved in this cave. The wood record from Hundsalm ice cave shows parallels to the Alpine glacier history of the last three millennia, for example, the lack of preserved wood remains during periods of known glacier minima, and underscores the potential of firn and ice in karst cavities as a long-term palaeoclimate archive, which has been degrading at an alarming rate in recent years.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-175
Number of pages11
JournalThe Holocene
Issue number2
Early online date21 Dec 2013
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014


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