Annual Assessment of North Cascades Glaciers Finds ‘Shocking Loss’ of Volume

The summer of 2019 found the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project in the field for the 36th consecutive summer monitoring the response of North Cascade glaciers to climate change. This long term monitoring program was initiated partly in response to a challenge in 1983 from Stephen Schneider to begin monitoring glacier systems before and as climate change became a dominant variable in their behavior.

The field team was comprised of Clara Deck, Ann Hill, Abby Hudak, Jill Pelto, and myself. All of us have worked on other glaciers. The bottom line for 2019 is the shocking loss of glacier volume.

Ann Hill, University of Maine graduate student observed, “Despite having experience studying glaciers in southeast Alaska and in Svalbard, I was shocked by the amount of thinning each glacier has endured through the last two and a half decades.” 

Glaciers are typically noted as powerful moving inexorably. Clara Deck, University of Maine MS graduate, was struck by “the beauty and fragility of the alpine environment and glaciers.” Fragile indeed in the face of climate change.

Abby Hudak, a Washington State graduate student, looked at both the glacier and biologic communities as under stress, but glaciers cannot migrate, adapt, or alter their DNA.

Easton Glacier, Mount Baker. Terminus has become thin and uncrevassed as a rapid retreat of 15 meters per year continued, with 405 m of retreat since 1990.

Over the span of 16 days in the field, every night spent in the backcountry adjacent to a glacier, we examined 10 glaciers in detail. All glaciers are accessed by backpacking. The measurements completed add to the now 36-year-long database that indicate a ~30 percent volume loss of these glaciers during that period (Pelto, 2018).

Here we review preliminary results from each glacier. Each glacier will have a mass balance loss of  1.5 -2.25 m, which drives continued retreat.  Columbia and Rainbow Glacier are reference glaciers for the World Glacier Monitoring Service, with Easton Glacier joining the ranks later this year.

Below and above is the visual summary. Specific mass balance and retreat data will be published here and with WGMS after October 1.

Easton Glacier icefall at 2,200 meters typically has 1.8 m w.e. at the end of the summer, this year it will be 0 m. The overall mass balance will be ~2 m of loss.
Deming Glacier, Mount Baker has now receded over 700 m since our first visit 35 years ago.

On Lower Curtis Glacier, a key accumulation source, the NE couloir now shows bedrock. Overall by summers end ~25 percent of the glacier will retain snow cover, far short of what is needed to maintain its volume.
The Lower Curtis Glacier terminus continues to retreat at 8 meters/year, but thinning and slope reduction has been more notable.
In early August, the majority of Sholes Glacier has lost its snowpack. The thin nature of the terminus indicates the glacier is poised for continued rapid retreat that has exceeded 15 meters per year during the last 7 years.
Runoff assessment confirmed ablation stake measurement of 11 centimeters of ablation/day from 8/6-8/8 on Sholes Glacier.
High on Rainbow Glacier, there are still plenty of regions lacking snow cover instead of a thick mantle of snowpack.
Rainbow Glacier was awash in meltwater streams (see video). This area should have 1 meter of snowpack left. Rainbow Glacier has retreated 650 meters since 1984.
Just getting to each glacier does involve overcoming various miseries.

To see more photos of the 36th annual North Cascades monitoring project, check out the Mauri Pelto’s original post on From a Glacier’s Perspective, a blog published by the American Geophysical Union.

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What the 2018 State of the Climate Report Says About Alpine Glaciers

For the last decade, I have written the section on alpine glaciers for the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society‘s State of the Climate report. The 2018 report was published this week. Below is the section on alpine glaciers. 

The key data resource is the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) record of mass balance and terminus behavior (WGMS, 2017), which provides a global index for alpine glacier behavior. 

Glacier mass balance is the difference between accumulation and ablation, reported here in millimeters of water equivalence (mm). Mean annual regionalized glacier mass balance in 2017 was -921 mm for the 42 long-term reference glaciers, with an overall mean of -951 mm for all 142 monitored glaciers. Preliminary data reported from reference glaciers to the WGMS in 2018 from Argentina, Austria, China, France, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States indicate that 2018 will be the 30th consecutive year of significant negative annual balance (.-200mm); with a mean balance of -1247 mm for the 25 reporting reference glaciers, with one glacier reporting a positive mass balance (WGMS, 2018).  This rate of mass loss may result in 2018 exceeding 2003 (-1246 mm) as the year of maximum observed loss. as a mean. This WGMS mass balance record has now been regionally averaged before determining the global mean, this has not been done yet for 2018, which will reduce the magnitude of the negative balance.

Ongoing global glacier retreat is currently affecting human society by increasing the rate of sea level rise, changing seasonal stream runoff, and increasing geo-hazard potential (Huss et al, 2017).  The recent mass losses 1991-2010 are due to anthropogenic forcing (Marzeion et al. 2014).

Global Alpine glacier annual mass balance record of reference glaciers submitted to the World Glacier Monitoring Service, with a minimum of 30 reporting glaciers.

The cumulative mass balance from 1980-2018 is -21.7 m, the equivalent of cutting a 24-meter-thick slice off the top of the average glacier (Figure 1).  The trend is remarkably consistent across regions (WGMS, 2017).  WGMS mass balance from 42 reference glaciers, which have a minimum 30 years of record, is not appreciably different from that of all glaciers at -21.5 m.  Marzeion et al (2017) compared WGMS direct observations of mass balance to remote sensing mass balance calculations, and climate driven mass balance model results and found that each method yields reconcilable estimates relative to each other and fall within their respective uncertainty margins. The decadal mean annual mass balance was -228 mm in the 1980’s, -443 mm in the 1990’s, 676 mm for 2000’s and – 921 mm for 2010-2018.  Glacier retreat reflects sustained negative mass balances over the last 30 years (Zemp et al., 2015).  The increasing rate of glacier mass loss  during a period of retreat indicates alpine glaciers are not approaching equilibrium and retreat will continue to be the dominant terminus response (Pelto, 2018).

Exceptional glacier melt was noted across the European Alps, leading to high snowlines and contributing to large negative mass balance of glaciers.  In the European Alps, annual mass balance has been reported from 17 glaciers in Austria, France, Italy and Switzerland.  All 17 had negative annual balances, with 15 exceeding -1000 mm with a mean of -1640 mm.  This continues the pattern of substantial negative balances in the Alps, which will equate to further terminus retreat.  Of 81 observed glaciers in 2017 in Switzerland, 80 retreated, and 1 was stable (Huss et al, 2018).  In 2017, 83 glaciers were observed in Austria,; 82 retreated, and 1 was stable.  Mean terminus retreat was 25 m, the highest observed since 1960, when mean length change reporting began (Lieb and Kellerer-Pirklbauer, 2018).

In Norway and Sweden, mass balance surveys with completed results are available for eight glaciers; all had negative mass balances with an average loss of -1420 mm w.e. All 25 glaciers with terminus observations during the 2007-2017 period have retreated (Kjøllmoen et al, 2018).

In western North America data has been submitted from 11 glaciers in Alaska and Washington in the United States.  All eleven glaciers reported negative mass balances with a mean loss of -870 mm. The longest mass balance record in North America is from Taku Glacier in Alaska.  In 2018 the glacier had its most negative mass balance since the beginning of the record in 1946 and the highest end of summer snowline elevation at 1400 m. The North Cascade Range, Washington from 2014-2018 had the most negative five-year period for the region of the 1980-2018 WGMS record.

In the High Mountains of Asia (HMA) data was reported from ten glaciers including from China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Nepal. Nine of the ten had negative balances with a mean of -710 mm. This is a continuation of regional mass loss that has driven thinning and a slowdown in glacier movement in 9 of 11 regions in HMA from 2000-2017 (Dehecq et al 2018).

Taku Glacier transient snowline in Landsat 8 images from July 21, 2018  and September 16, 2018.  The July 21 snowline is at 975 m and the September 16 snowline is at 1400 m.  The average end of summer snowline from is m with the 2018 snowline being the highest observed since observations began in 1946.


Huss, M., B. Bookhagen, C. Huggel, D. Jacobsen, R. Bradley, J. Clague, M. Vuille,  W. Buytaert, D. Cayan, G. Greenwood, B. Mark, A. Milner, R. Weingartner and M. Winder, 2017a: Toward mountains without permanent snow and ice. Earth’s Future5: 418–435. doi:10.1002/2016EF000514

Huss, M., A. Bauder, C. Marty and J. Nötzli, 2018: Neige, glace et pergélisol 2016/17.  Les Alpes94(8), 40-45. (

Dehecq, A., N. Gorumelon, A. Gardner, F. Brun, D. Goldberg, P. Nienow, E. Berthier, C. Vincent, P. Wagnon, and E. Trouve, 2019: Twenty-first century glacier slowdown driven by mass loss in High Mountain Asia. Nature Geoscience 12, 22–27.

Kjøllmoen B., L. Andreassen, H. Elvehøy, and M. Jackson, 2018: Glaciological investigations in Norway in 2017. NVE Report 82 2018.

Lieb, G.K. and A. Kellerer-Pirklbauer ,2018: Gletscherbericht 2016/17 Sammelbericht über die Gletschermessungen des Österreichischen Alpenvereins im Jahre 2017. Letzter Bericht: Bergauf 2/2017Jg. 72 (142), S. 18–25. (

Marzeion, B., J. Cogley, K. Richter and D. Parkes, 2014: Attribution of global glacier mass loss to anthropogenic and natural causes. Science345(6199), 919–921, doi: 10.1126/science.1254702)

Marzeion, B., Champollion, N., Haeberli, W. et al.: Observation-Based Estimates of Global Glacier Mass Change and Its Contribution to Sea-Level ChangeSurvey of Geophys, 38: 105, doi: 10.1007/s10712-016-9394-y.

Pelto, M., 2018: How Unusual Was 2015 in the 1984–2015 Period of the North Cascade Glacier Annual Mass Balance? Water 10, 543, doi: 10.3390/w10050543.

WGMS 2017: Global Glacier Change Bulletin No. 2(2017). Zemp, M., and others(eds.), ICSU(WDS)/IUGG(IACS)/UNEP/UNESCO/WMO, World Glacier Monitoring Service, Zurich, Switzerland, 244 pp.: doi:10.5904/wgms-fog-2017-10.

WGMS 2018: Fluctuations of Glaciers Database. World Glacier Monitoring Service, Zurich, Switzerland. doi: 10.5904/wgms-fog-2018-11.

Zemp and others 2015: Historically unprecedented global glacier decline in the early 21st century. J. Glaciology61(228), 745-763, doi: 10.3189/2015JoG15J017.

This article originally appeared on the American Geophysical Union blog, From a Glacier’s Perspective.

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The Accumulation Zone of Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier Is Shrinking

Mendenhall Glacier is the most visited and photographed terminus in the Juneau Icefield region. The glacier can be seen from the suburbs of Juneau.  Its ongoing retreat from the Visitor Center and the expansion of the lake it fills is well chronicled. Here we document the rise in the snowline on the glacier that indicates increased melting and reduced mass balance that has driven the retreat. The change in snowline from 1984-2018 and the associated retreat are documented. The snowline as July begins in 2019 is already in the end of summer range.

Mendenhall Lake did not exist until after 1910. In 1948 it was 2.2 kilometers across, and by 1984 the lake was 2.7 km across.  Boyce et al (2007) note the glacier had two periods of rapid retreat: one in the 1940’s and the second beginning in the 1990’s, both of which were enhanced by buoyancy-driven calving. The latter period has featured less calving, particularly in the last decade, and is a result of greater summer melting and a higher snowline by the end of the summer, which has averaged 1,250 meters since 2003 vs. 1,050 m prior to that (Pelto et al, 2016). In 2005, the base of the glacier was below the lake level for at least 500 m upglacier of the terminus (Boyce et al (2007).  This suggests the glacier is nearing the end of the calving enhanced retreat.  It is likely another lake basin would develop 0.5 km above the current terminus, where the glacier slope is quite modest.

Mendenhall Glacier in Landsat images from 1984 and 2018. Yellow arrows indicates 1984 terminus location, red arrow indicates the Suicide Basin tributary, and the purple dots indicate the snowline.

The glacier in 1984 ended at the tip of a prominent peninsula in Mendenhall Lake. The snowline is at 950 m. In 1984 with the Juneau Icefield Research Program, we completed both snowpits and crevasse stratigraphy that indicated retained snowpack at the end of summer is usually more than 2 m at 1,500-1,600 m. The red arrow indicates a tributary that joins the main glacier, where Suicide Basin currently forms. In 2014 the snowline in late August is at 1,050 m.  The terminus has retreated to a point where the lake narrows, which helps reduce calving. In 2015 the snowline is at 1,475 m. In 2017 the snowline reached 1,500 m.  There is a small lake in Suicide Basin. In September 2018 the snowline reached 1,550 m—the highest elevation the snowline has been observed to reach any year. In Suicide Basin the lake drained in early July. In 2018 Juneau Icefield Research Program snowpits indicates only 60 percent of the usual snowpack left on the upper Taku Glacier, near the divide with Mendenhall Glacier. On July 1 2019 the snowline is already as high as it was in late August of 1984.  This indicates the snowline is likely to reach near a record level again. The US Geological Survey and the National Weather Service is monitoring Suicide Basin for the drainage of this glacier melt filled lake. In 2019 the lake rapidly filled from early June until July 8—the water level increasing 40 feet. It has drained from July 8 to 16 back to it early June Level. The high melt rate has thinned the Mendenhall Glacier in the area reducing the elevation of the ice dam and hence the size of the lake in 2019 vs. 2018.

The snowline separates the accumulation zone from the ablation (melting) zone and the glacier needs to have more than 60 percent of its area in the accumulation zone. The end of summer snowline is the equilibrium line altitude where mass balance at the location is zero. With the snowline averaging 1,500 m during recent years, this leaves less than 30 percent of the glacier in the accumulation zone. This will drive continued retreat even when the glacier retreats from Mendenhall Lake. The declining mass balance is evident across the Juneau Icefield (Pelto et al 2013).  Retreat from 1984-2018 has been 1,900 m. This retreat is better known, but less than at nearby Gilkey Glacier and Field Glacier.

Mendenhall Glacier in a Landsat image from 2014. Yellow arrows indicate 1984 terminus location, and the purple dots indicate the snowline.
Mendenhall Glacier in a Landsat image from 2015. Yellow arrows indicate 1984 terminus location, and the purple dots indicate the snowline.
Mendenhall Glacier in a Landsat image from 2017. Yellow arrows indicate 1984 terminus location, and the purple dots indicate the snowline.
Mendenhall Glacier in a Landsat image from 2019. Yellow arrows indicates 1984 terminus location, and the purple dots indicate the snowline.

This article originally appeared on the American Geophysical Union blog, From a Glacier’s Perspective.

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China’s Asejiaguo Glacier Is Retreating

Asejiaguo Glacier drains east from the China-Nepal border and is at the headwaters of the Yarlung Tsangpo, which becomes the Brahmaputra River. The Yarlung Tsangpo powers the 510 megawatt Zangmu Hydropower Station.  Gardelle et al (2013) identified this glacier as part of the West Nepal region, which experienced mass loss averaging -0.32 meter/year from 1999-2011. The changes of the Asejaguo Glacier are examined for the 1993 to 2018 period using Landsat imagery. Neckel et al (2014) examined changes in the surface elevation of the glaciers and found this region lost 0.37 m/year from 2003 to 2009.

In 1993 the glacier terminated in a small proglacial lake that is ~1 kilometer long at 4,900 m. At Point 1-2 there is limited exposed bedrock at 5,400-5,600 m, which is near the snowline; the head of the glacier is at 6,000 m.  There is a prominent medial moraine that begins at 5,300 m where the north and south tributaries join.  The greater width of the southern tributary indicates this is the large contributor. In 1994, the snowline is higher, at 5,500 m, but there is still only a small outcrop of bedrock at Point 2. By 2016 the proglacial lake has expanded to a length of over 2 km. At Point 1 and 2 there is a greatly expanded area of bedrock and the separation of a former tributary near Point 1 from the main glacier. In November 2018 there is fresh snowfall obscuring the exposed bedrock at Point 1 and 2. The retreat from 1993-2018 is 1.5 km, and the expanding proglacial lake is over 2.5 km long. The expanding bedrock areas in the 5,400-5,600 m range indicate the reason rise in snowline that has generated mass loss and ongoing retreat.

Asejiaguo Glacier in Landsat images from 1993 and 2018. The yellow arrow indicates the 2018 terminus and the red arrow the 1993 terminus location. Point 1 and 2 are areas of expanding bedrock at the elevation of 5,400-5,600 meters.
Asejiaguo Glacier in Landsat images from 1994 and 2016. The yellow arrow indicates the 2016 terminus and the red arrow the 1994 terminus location. Point 1 and 2 are areas of expanding bedrock at the elevation of 5,400-5,600 meters.
Asejiaguo Glacier, blue arrows indicate flow direction. M indicates the medial moraine; the China-Nepal border is also noted.

This article originally appeared on the American Geophysical Union blog From a Glacier’s Perspective.

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Chickamin Glacier Retreat Generates Separation and Lake Expansion

Chickamin Glacier in southeast Alaska glacier drains south from an icefield near Portland Canal and straddles the border with British Columbia. The glacier ended on an outwash plain in 1955 at an elevation of 250 meters.  Shortly thereafter a lake began to form, and by 1979 a Landsat image indicates a lake that is 1,300 meters long and a retreat of ~2.5 kilometers from 1902-1979 (Molnia, 2008). The glacier at that time was fed by a substantial tributary entering from the south ~5 km above the terminus, Through Glacier, pink arrow in the image below.

Here we examine Landsat images from 1985-2018 to identify the response to climate change.

In 1985, the glacier terminated at an elbow in the lake, where the lake both narrows temporarily and turns east, red arrow. The glacier had terminated close to this location for 30 years. The snowline is at 1,150 m, and Through glacier still connects to Chickamin Glacier.  At point 1 and 2, the area of exposed bedrock is limited. In 1994, the glacier has retreated 500 m from the elbow. Through Glacier has separated from Chickamin Glacier. The snowline in 1994 is at 1,125 m. In 2013, Through Glacier has retreated 1,600 m from Chickamin Glacier. Chickamin Glacier has retreated 2 km since 1985, and the snowline is at 1,250 m.  By 2018, Chickamin Glacier has retreated 3.5 km since 1985 at a rate of just over ~100 m/year, yellow arrow.

Chickamin Glacier, Alaska in 1985 and 2018 Landsat images indicating the 3.5 kilometer retreat and associated lake expansion. Red arrow is 1985 terminus location, yellow arrow is the 2018 terminus location, pink arrow is former junction area with Through Glacier.  The purple dots indicate the snowline. Point 1 and 2 are locations of bedrock expansion above the equilibrium line altitude. 

The terminus is currently at a point where the lake narrows, which should reduce the retreat rate. In 2018, the snowline reached 1,525 m, leaving only 10-15 percent of the glacier in the accumulation zone. The exceptionally high  snowline in 2018 was also noted at Taku Glacier. The snowline from 2014-2018 has persistently been above 1,350 m, which indicates substantial negative mass balance for the glacier that will drive continued retreat. The persistent snowline elevation above 1,250 m is indicated by the expansion of bedrock areas at Point 1 and 2 from 1985 to 2018, which both are located in what was the typical accumulation zone prior to that time.

The sustained mass balance losses follow that of Lemon Creek Glacier, which has a long-term record from 1953-2018 indicating a loss of  ~-0.5 m/year (Pelto et al. 2013).  The retreat and lake expansion has become a chorus with more than 20 coastal Alaskan glaciers having at least a 2 km lake expansion due to retreat since 1984, documented individually in previous posts at this blog.

Chickamin Glacier, Alaska in 1994 and 2013 Landsat images indicating the 3.5 kilometer retreat and associated lake expansion. Red arrow is 1985 terminus location, yellow arrow is the 2018 terminus location, pink arrow is former junction area with Through Glacier. The purple dots indicate the snowline. Point 1 and 2 are locations of bedrock expansion above the equilibrium line altitude. 
US Geological Survey map of Chickamin Glacier based on 1948 aerial photographs

This story originally appeared on the AGU blog From a Glaciers Perspective.

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North Cascade 2019 Winter Accumulation Assessment

For North Cascade glaciers the accumulation season provides a layer of snow that must last through the melt season. A thin layer sets the glaciers up for a mass balance loss, much like a bear with a limited fat layer would lose more mass than ideal during hibernation.

The 2019 winter season in the North Cascade Range, Washington has been unusual. On April 1, the retained snow-water equivalent in snowpack across the range at the six long SNOTEL sites is 0.72 meters, which is ~70 percent of average. This is the fifth lowest since 1984. The unusual part is that freezing levels were well above normal in January, in the 95 percentile at 1,532 m, then were the lowest level, 372 m of any February since the freezing level record began in 1948. March returned to above normal freezing levels.

April 1 winter accumulation at the longer term North Cascade SNOTEL stations (Fish Lake, Lyman Lake, Park Creek, Rainy Pass, Stampede Pass, and Stevens Pass).

As is typical, periods of cold weather in the regions are associated with reduced snowfall in the mountains and more snowfall at low elevations. In the Seattle metropolitan area February was the snowiest month in 50 years, 0.51 m of snow fell, but in the North Cascades snowfall in the month was well below average. From Feb. 1 to April 1, snowpack SWE at Lyman Lake, the SNOTEL site closest to a North Cascade glacier, usually increases from 0.99 m to 1.47 m. This year, SWE increased from 0.83 m to 1.01 m during this period.

The Mount Baker ski area snow measurement site has the world record for most snowfall in a season: 1,140 inches (28.96 m) during the 1998-99 snow season. The average snowfall is 633 inches (16.07 m) with snowfall this year, as of April 15, at 533 inches (13.53 m). Below is a Landsat image from April 15, 2019 indicating the snowline at ~1000 m in the Nooksack River Valley and 900-1000 m in the Baker Lake valley.

Freezing levels at Mount Baker, WA from the North American Freezing Level Tracker. February was the lowest mean freezing level since 1948.

This year, for the 36th consecutive year, the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project will be in the field measuring North Cascade glaciers. The early signs point towards a seventh consecutive negative balance year.

Mount Baker cloaked in winter snow in an April 15, 2019 Landsat image. MB=Mount Baker, MS=Mount Shuksan, NR=Nooksack River

This article was originally published on the blog From a Glacier’s Perspective.

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Nevado Ausangate Glaciers, Peru Retreat, and Lake Formation

Here we examine three Ausangate Glaciers in Peru, which descend south from the Nevado Ausangate group of peaks in the Cordillera Vilcanota. A circumnavigation trek around Nevado Ausangate is a favorite for visitors to the Machu Picchu area.

Digital Globe image of the Ausangate Glaciers. Red arrows indicate 1995 terminus location and yellow dots the 2018 terminus location.

The glaciers are just west of Laguna Sibinacocha, and drain into the Rio Vilcanota. Retreat of glaciers in the Cordillera Vilcanota has been rapid since 1975, Veettil et al (2017) noted that ~80 percent of glaciated area below 5,000 meters was lost from 1975-2015, and glacier area overall area had declined 48 percent.  Henshaw and Bookhagen (2014) observed that from 1988-2010, glacial areas in the Cordillera Vilcanota declined annually by ~ 1 percent per year.

Ausangate Glaciers in 1995 Landsat and 2018 Sentinel image. Red arrows indicate 1995 terminus location and yellow arrows the 2018 terminus location. The development of three proglacial lakes at the terminus of each glacier is evident.

In 1995 the three glaciers all terminate in incipient proglacial lakes. The terminus of #3 is debris covered. By 2000 each of the glaciers is still terminating in an expanding proglacial lake. Glacier #1 and #2 have developed to a size of ~0.1 square kilometers. Glacier #3 still shows limited lake development.

By 2018 Glacier #1 has retreated 450 m and is now separated from the lake. Glacier #2 has retreated 400 m and no longer reaches the lake. Glacier #3 is still in contact with the lake which still has debris covered stagnant ice covering a portion of the basin. This lake has an area of 0.13 square kilometers, and could reach an area of ~0.2 square kilometers depending on debris cover thickness.

The terminus of each glacier has retreated above 5,000 m since 1995. The glaciers each have extensive crevassing and maintains a snow covered accumulation zone, indicating they can survive current climate. Veettil et al (2017) noted that glacier area above 5,300 m was relative stable, for Ausangate Glaciers the area above 5,200 m is in the accumulation zone and has been relatively stable.

The formation of new lakes and the retreat from proglacial lakes has been a common occurrence in recent decades for Andean glaciers in Peru such as Manon Glacier and Soranano Glacier. The key role of glaciers to runoff is illustrated by the fact that 77 percent of lakes connected to a glacier watershed have maintained the same area or expanded, while 42 percent of lakes not connected to a glacier watershed have declined in area, according to Henshaw and Bookhagen (2014). The Ausangate Glaciers supply runoff to the Machupicchu Hydroelectric Power Plant managed by EGEMSA, which has an operating capacity of 90 megawatts. The Vilcanota River becomes the Urubamba River further downstream.

Ausangate Glaciers in a 2000 Landsat image. The development of two of the three proglacial lakes at the terminus of each glacier is evident.

This article was originally published on the American Geophysical Union blog From a Glacier’s Perspective.

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Heard Island Glacier Retreat Enables Lagoon Development

The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) manages Heard Island and has undertaken a project documenting changes in the environment on the island. One aspect noted has been the change in glaciers. The Winston, Brown, and Stephenson glaciers have all retreated substantially since 1947 when the first good maps of their terminus are available.

Fourteen Men by Arthur Scholes (1952) documents a year spent by 14 men of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition that documented the particularly stormy, inclement weather of the region. Their journey to the east end of the island noted that they could not skirt past the glaciers along the coast. After crossing Stephenson Glacier they visited an old seal camp and counted 16,000 seals in the area. It is a rich area for wildlife that will benefit from the lagoon formation overall. Three species of seal commonly breed on Heard Island, southern elephant seals, Antarctic fur seal, and sub-antarctic fur seals (AAD, 2019).

Stephenson Glacier (SG), Stephenson Lagoon (SL), Winston Glacier (WG), and Winston Lagoon (WL) are seen in a 2019 Sentinel Image.

Here we examine the retreat of Stephenson Glacier and Winston Glacier from 2001-2019 and the consequent lagoon expansion. As Kiernan and McConnell observed, retreat of Stephenson Glacier had begun by 1971. The glacier had retreated a kilometer from the south coast and several hundred meters from the northern side of the spit. This retreat by 1980 caused the formation of Stephenson Lagoon.

Retreat of Stephenson Glacier and Winston Glacier from 2001 (red arrows) to 2018 (yellow arrows) seen in Landsat images.

In 2001 Stephenson Glacier has two separate termini: Doppler to the south and Stephenson to the east. There are numerous icebergs in Doppler lagoon but none in Stephenson Lagoon, indicating the retreat is underway. Winston Glacier terminates where the lagoon widens.

In 2008 the two lagoons in front of Stephenson Glacier are joined with a narrow eastern channel, the lagoons are filled with icebergs as a terminus collapse is underway. Winston Glacier has retreated into a narrower inlet from the wider Winston Lagoon.

By 2010 Stephenson Glacier had retreated from the main now singular Stephenson Lagoon and, like Winston Glacier in 2001, terminates at narrow point where the glacier enters the main lagoon.

By 2018 Stephenson Glacier has retreated from the main lagoon: The northern arm of the glacier experienced a 1.8 km retreat from 2001 to 2018 and the southern arm a 3.5 km retreat. The lagoon is free of ice for the first time in several centuries if not several millennia. The period of rapid retreat due to calving of icebergs into the lagoon is over and the retreat rate will now be slower. Winston Glacier has retreated 600 meters from 2001-2018. The overall lagoon expansion has been limited as the glacier has retreated up an inlet that is 500 m wide.

The AAD has a number of images in their gallery of Heard Island glaciers including Stephenson Glacier. The climate station at Atlas Cove indicates a 1°C temperature rise in the last 60 years. The AAD will also certainly be looking at how this new lagoon impacts the local seal and penguin communities. The population of king penguins increased sharply from the 1940’s into the 21st century, while rockhopper, gentoo, and macaroni penguin numbers declined over the same period (AAD, 2019).

The map below indicates the importance of Stephenson Lagoon and Winston Lagoon for wildlife, king penguins, and cormorants are noted by AAD. The retreat of this glacier follows the pattern of glacier retreat at other glaciers on islands in the circum-Antarctic region Cook Ice Cap, Kerguelen IslandHindle Glacier, and Neumayer Galcier, South Georgia.

A map of Heard Island. (Source: Australian Antarctic Division)

Stephenson Glacier and Winston Glacier are seen in Landsat images from 2008 and 2010. The 2001 terminus locations are indicated by red arrows and terminus locations in 2018 are indicated by yellow arrows.

Read more on GlacierHub:

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Argentina’s Retreating Turbio Glacier Creates a New Lake

Turbio Glacier is at the headwaters of Argentina’s Turbio River and flows into Lago Puelo. The glacier descends east from the Chile-Argentina border at 1,500 meters, descending into a low-slope valley at 1,300-1,000 m.

From 1986-2018 this glacier like many others nearby has retreated substantially leading to development of a new lake. Wilson et al. (2018) noted a substantial growth in the number of lakes in the Central and Patagonian Andes due to the ongoing rapid retreat. Masiokas et al. (2008) reported that significant warming and decreasing precipitation over the 1912–2002 interval in the region. Harrison et al. (2018) observed the number of glacier lake outburst floods have declined despite the increase in lakes.

Turbio Glacier retreat from 1986 to 2018 in Landsat images. Red arrow is 1986 terminus location, yellow arrow 2018 terminus location, and pink arrow glacier across the border in Chile.

In 1986 the glacier terminated at the southeast end of a buttress at the junction with another valley (red arrow in the image above). The glacier was 4.3 kilometers long and was connected to a headwall segment that extends to 1,500 m. There is no evidence of a lake at the terminus of Turbio Glacier.

Across the divide in Chile, the glacier, seen with a pink arrow in the above image, has a length of 3 km. In 1998 the retreat from 1986 has been modest and no lake has formed at Turbio. Across the border in Chile the glacier has divided into two sections.

Turbio Glacier retreat from 1998 to 2017 in Landsat images. Red arrow is 1986 terminus location, yellow arrow 2018 terminus location and pink arrow glacier across the border in Chile.

By 2017 Turbio Glacier has retreated exposing a new lake. The glacier is essentially devoid of retained snowpack, illustrating the lack of a significant accumulation zone that can sustain it. Across the border in Chile the glacier has nearly disappeared with the lower section revealing a new lake and little retained snowpack indicating it cannot survive.

By 2018 Turbio Glacier has retreated 1.3 km, which is over 30 percent of its total length in 32 years. The glacier is separated from the headwall glacier, which can still shed avalanches onto the lower glacier. It is possible that with additional retreat another lake will be revealed in this valley. The substantial retreat here is comparable with that of nearby Argentina glaciers such as Pico Alto Glacier and Lago Cholila . The retreat is greater than on Tic Toc Glacier to the southwest in Chile.

Turbio Glacier in a Digital Globe image from 2013. Red arrow is 1986 terminus location, yellow arrow 2018 terminus location, blue arrows show glacier flow, and pink arrow indicates glacier across the border in Chile. The border is also indicated.

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South Georgia Island’s Novosilski Glacier Is Retreating Rapidly

Novosilski Glacier is a large tidewater outlet glacier on the west (cloudier) coast of South Georgia,  terminating in Novosilski Bay. It shares a divide with the rapidly retreating Ross and Hindle Glacier on the east coast.  

Gordon et al. (2008) observed that larger tidewater and calving outlet glaciers generally remained in relatively advanced positions from the 1950’s until the 1980s. After 1980 most glaciers receded; some of these retreats have been dramatic.

The change in glacier termini position that have been documented by Cook et al (2010) at British Antarctic Survey in a BAS retreat map identified that 212 of the peninsula’s 244 marine glaciers have retreated over the past 50 years and rates of retreat are increasing.

Pelto (2017) documented the retreat of 11 of these glaciers during the 1989-2015 period.

Here we examine Landsat images from 2001-2018 and the British Antarctic Survey GIS of the island to identify the magnitude of glacier change.

The Novosilski Glacier is seen in Landsat images from 2001 and 2018. The red arrow indicate 2001 terminus location, yellow arrow the 2018 terminus location, pink arrows the fringing grounded sections of marginal ice. The South Georgia BAS map, lower image, indicates glacier margin position and elevation contours.

In 2001 Novosilski Glacier terminated in shallow water just east of a small island that acted as a pinning point (red arrow).  By 2009 the glacier had retreated only a minor amount from this island into deeper water.

A rapid retreat ensued, and by 2016 the glacier had retreated into a narrower fjord reach. The north and south margins featured remnant ice that was based above tidewater (pink arrows). The blue arrows in the 2016 Landsat image indicate the large accumulation area feeding Novosilski.  

The Novosilski Glacier is seen in Landsat image from 2016. The red arrow indicates 2001 terminus location, yellow arrow the 2018 terminus location, pink arrows the fringing grounded sections of marginal ice, and blue arrows the glacier flow directions.

By 2018 the 2-kilometer-wide calving front had retreated 2.5 km from the 2001 position. There is little evident thinning upglacier of the terminus, and there is a significant increase in surface slope suggesting that unless calving rate increases the terminus can remain near its current position.

The snowline is below 500 meters in each of the satellite images of the glacier. This is not a particularly hospitable section of coastline and the BAS has only identified gentoo penguins having colonies in the area.

The Novosilski Glacier is seen in a Landsat image from 2009. The red arrow indicates 2001 terminus location, the yellow arrow shows the 2018 terminus location.

This article originally appeared on From a Glacier’s Perspective, a blog published by the American Geophysical Union.

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Erasmo Glacier, Chile Terminus Collapse and Aquaculture

Cerro Erasmo at 46 degrees South latitude is a short distance north of the Northern Patagonia Icefield and is host to a number of glaciers, the largest of which flows northwest from the mountain. This is referred to as Erasmo Glacier with an area of ~40 square kilometers. Meltwater from this glacier enters Cupquelan Fjord, which is host to a large aquaculture project for Atlantic salmon, producing ~18,000 tons annually. This remote location allows Cooke Aquaculture to protect its farm from environmental contamination.

Runoff from Erasmo Glacier is a key input to the fjord, while Rio Exploradores’s large inflow near the fjord mouth limits inflow from the south. Davies and Glasser (2012) mapped the area of these glaciers and noted a 7 percent decline in glacier area from 1986-2011 of Cerro Erasmo. The recent retreat of the largest glacier in the Cerro Erasmo massif indicates this area retreat rate has increased since 2011. Meier et al (2018) note a 48 percent reduction in glacier area in the Cerro Erasmo and Cerro Hudson region since 1870, with half of that occurring since 1986.

In 1987 Erasmo Glacier had a land-based terminus at the end of a 6-km-long, low-sloped valley tongue. The snowline was at 1,100 meters.  In 1998 there is thinning but limited retreat, and the snowline is at 1,250 m.

By 2013 a proglacial lake had formed and there are numerous icebergs visible in the lake (Note Digital Globe image). The snowline is at 1,200-1,250 m in 2013 at the top of the main icefall. By 2016 a large lake had formed, and the snowline is at 1,200 m again at the top of the icefall.  By 2016 the terminus has retreated 2.9 km since 1987, generating a lake of the same length.

Erasmo Glacier retreat in Landsat image from 1987 and Sentinel image from 2018. Red arrow is 1987 terminus, orange arrow 2016 terminus and yellow arrow 2018 terminus. Points A-D mark areas of expanding bedrock exposure. (Source: Digital Globe)

The snowline in 2016 was at 1,200 m at the top of the icefall. From 2016 to 2018 a further 0.9 km retreat occurred. The 3.8 km retreat from 1998 to 2018 is a rate of ~200 m/year. Thinning upglacier to the expanding ridge from Point A-D is evident. Thinning at Point C has eliminated the overflow into the distributary glacier that had existed. The collapse is ongoing as indicated by the number of icebergs in the lake in 2018. There is an increased glacier surface slope 1 km behind the 2018 glacier front, suggesting the lake will not extend passed this point.

Breakup of Erasmo Glacier terminus in Digital Globe image from 2013. Purple arrow indicates largest iceberg. (Source: Digital Globe)

The retreat is consistent with retreat documented at Reichert GlacierHornopirén Glacier, and Cordillera Lago General Carrera Glacier. The impact on inflow to Cupquelan Fjord due to glacier retreat will be increased stream runoff during the wet winter season and reduced flow during the drier summer period December-February.  The summer season is still relatively wet.

This article originally appeared on From a Glacier’s Perspective, a blog published by the American Geophysical Union. 

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Brady Glacier, Alaska Nunatak Expansion and High Snowline 2018

This post was originally published on the American Geophysical Union blog on September 24, 2018.

Brady Glacier is a large Alaskan tidewater glacier in the Glacier Bay region that is beginning a period of substantial retreat (Pelto et al. 2013). Pelto et al. (2013) noted that the end of season observed transient snowline averaged 725 m from 2003-2011, well above the 600 m that represents the equilibrium snowline elevation for the glacier to sustain its current size. In 2015, 2016 and 2018, the snowline has been at 900-1000 m. This is leading to thinning across what was much of the accumulation zone. Here we examine Landsat images from 1986 to 2018 to identify signs of this thinning.

Emergence of Nunataks at Point A, B and C at 850 m on Brady Glacier from 1986 and 2018 Landsat Images. Transient snowline on 9/21/2018 indicated by purple dots (Source: AGU).

In 1986, Point A and B have insignificant rock exposure, while C has a limited single rock nunatak.  By 2000, there is bedrock exposed west of Point A and B, with two small nunataks near C. By 2015, there is a 2 km-long bedrock ridge at Point A and a ~1 km-long bedrock ridge at Point B.  The snowline in 2015 is just above Point B and C at 900 m. In 2016, on 1 Oct. 2016, after the end of the typical melt season, the snowline is at 900 m. In 2018, the snowline on Sept. 21 is at 1000 m. At Point A the bedrock ridge is now 2300 m long and up to 300 m wide. At Point A, the ridge is 1100 m long. At Point C, a third nunatak has emerged, and the series of nunataks will soon merge into a single ridge.

The persistent high snowlines indicate the consistent accumulation zone is now above 900 m, below this point thinning will continue. The mean elevation of the glacier is at 720 m, and thinning is significant below 1000 m from 1995-2011(Johnson et al, 2013). That is far less than 50 percent the glacier is retaining snowpack, and widespread thinning will drive further retreat of the distributary glacier termini in expanding lakes, noted by Pelto et al. (2013) and a 2016 blog post. Brady Glacier abuts the adjacent Lampugh Glacier that has and will be impacted by a large landslide.

Trick Lakes: In 1986, North and South Trick Lake are proglacial lakes in contact with the glacier. By 2016, the two lakes are no longer in contact with the glacier, water levels have fallen and a third lake, East Trick Lake, has formed. The more recently developed East Trick Lake is the current proglacial Trick Lake, a large glacier river exits this lake and parallels the glacier to the main Brady Glacier terminus, going beneath the glacier for only several hundred meters.

North Deception Lake: Had a limited area in 1986 with no location more than 500 m long. By 2016, retreat has expanded the lake to a length over 2 km. The width of the glacier margin at North Deception Lake will not change in the short term, but the valley widens 2 km back from the current calving front, thus the lake may grow considerably in the future.

South Dixon Lake: This new lake does not have an official name. It did not exist in 1986, 2004, 2007 or 2010. It is nearly circular today and 400 m in diameter.

Dixon Lake: It is likely that retreat toward the main valley of Brady Glacier will lead to increased water depths at Dixon Lake, observations of the depth of this lake do not exist. Retreat from 1986 to 2016 has been 600 m.

Bearhole Lake: Is expanding up valley with glacier retreat, and there are no significant changes in the width of the valley that would suggest a significant increase in calving width could occur in the near future. Currently, the lake is 75 m deep at the calving front, and there has been a 1400 m retreat since 1986 (Capps et. al. 2013).

Spur Lake: It is likely that retreat toward the main valley of Brady Glacier will lead to increased water depths at Spur Lake. The depth has fallen as the surface level fell from 1986-2016 as the margin retreated 600 m, leaving a trimline evident in the 2016 imagery.

Oscar Lake: Has experienced rapid growth with the collapse of the terminus tongue. Depth measurements indicate much of the calving front, which has increased by an order of magnitude since 1986, is over 100 m. The tongue, as seen in a 2014 Google Earth image, will continue to collapse, and water depth should increase as well. The central narrow tongue has retreated less than 200 m since 1986, but the majority of the glacier front has retreated more than 1 km since 1986.

Abyss Lake: Continued retreat will lead to calving width expansion. The retreat from 1986 to 2016 has been 400 m. The water depth has been above 150 m at the calving front for sometime and should remain high.

Emergence of nunataks at Point A, B and C at 850 m on Brady Glacier from 2000 and 2015 Landsat Images. Transient snowline on 9/21/2018 indicated by purple dots (Source: AGU).


Landsat image of Brady Glacier on 9/21/2018 indicating the snowline (purple dots) and the emerging nunataks at Point A-C. Lakes noted are: A=Abyss, B=Bearhole, D=Dixon, N=North Deception, O=Oscar, Sd=South Dixon, Sp=Spur, T=Trick (Source: AGU).


Landsat image of Brady Glacier on 10/1/2016 indicating the snowline (purple dots) and the emerging nunataks at Point A-C (Source: AGU).



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