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Journal Articles Geomorphology Year : 2014

Environmental controls on alpine cirque size

Magali Delmas
Yanni Gunnell
Marc Calvet


Pleistocene alpine cirques are emblematic landforms of mountain scenery, yet their deceptively simple template conceals complex controlling variables. This comparative study presents a new database of 1071 cirques, the largest of its kind, located in the French eastern Pyrenees. It is embedded in a review of previous work on cirque morphometry and thus provides a perspective on a global scale. First-order cirque attributes of length, width, and amplitude were measured; and their power as predictors of climatic and lithological variables and as proxies for the duration of glacier activity was tested using ANOVA, simple and multiple linear regression, and their various post-hoc tests. Conventional variables such as cirque aspect, floor elevation, and exposure with respect to regional precipitation-bearing weather systems are shown to present some consistency in spatial patterns determined by solar radiation, the morning–afternoon effect, and wind-blown snow accumulation in the lee of ridgetops. This confirms in greater detail the previously encountered links between landforms and climate. A special focus on the influence of bedrock lithology, a previously neglected nonclimatic variable, highlights the potential for spurious relations in the use of cirque size as a proxy of past environmental conditions. Cirques are showcased as complex landforms resulting from the combination of many climatic and nonclimatic variables that remain difficult to rank by order of importance. Apart from a few statistically weak trends, several combinations of different factors in different proportions are shown to produce similar morphometric outcomes, suggesting a case of equifinality in landform development.


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Dates and versions

hal-01227984 , version 1 (12-11-2015)



Magali Delmas, Yanni Gunnell, Marc Calvet. Environmental controls on alpine cirque size. Geomorphology, 2014, 206, p. 318-329. ⟨10.1016/j.geomorph.2013.09.037⟩. ⟨hal-01227984⟩
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