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.

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. 

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).