MASS-BALANCE CHANGE AS A CONTROL ON THE FREQUENCY AND OCCURRENCE OF GLACIER SURGES IN SVALBARD, NORWEGIAN HIGH ARCTIC

JA DOWDESWELL, R HODGKINS, AM NUTTALL, JO HAGEN, GS HAMILTON, Anne-Marie Nuttall

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Abstract

The end of the Little Ice Age (LIA) in Svalbard (76–81°N), a climate-sensitive region at the northern extreme of strong poleward heat transfer, was marked by an abrupt increase in mean annual air temperature of up to 5°C around 1920. Glacier mass balance has been consistently negative since this time, and large cumulative net losses of mass have occurred at most glaciers. Energy-balance modelling confirms the sensitivity of Svalbard glaciers to climate change, predicting a negative shift in net mass balance of up to 0.8 m a−1 (water equivalent) per degree temperature rise. This climate-related shift in glacier mass balance has reduced the intensity of glacier surge activity in Svalbard. One glacier, known to have surged since the end of the LIA, has since failed to accumulate the mass required to re-initiate the surge cycle, and is also now cold at its base and incapable of rapid flow by basal sliding. Three overviews of the total number of actively-surging glaciers in Svalbard between 1936–90 show a decrease from 18 to 5. This is significant compared with the expected numbers of surges based on LIA conditions. Post-LIA climate change in Svalbard has therefore affected not only glacier extent, but also ice dynamics. This is trend will probably continue given CO2-induced climate-warming.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2909-2912
Number of pages3
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Volume22
Issue number21
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 1995

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