Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research

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Vol. 43, No. 1, 2011

pp. 1-10

Twenty-First Century Calving Retreat of Tasman Glacier, Southern Alps, New Zealand

R. C. Dykes, M. S. Brook, C. M. Robertson, and I. C. Fuller

Tasman Glacier is the largest glacier in the New Zealand Southern Alps. Despite a century of warming and down-wastage, the glacier remained at its Little Ice Age terminus until the late 20th century. Since then, a proglacial lake formed, and comparatively rapid calving retreat has been initiated. In this paper we use sequential satellite imagery to document terminus retreat, growth of supraglacial ponds, and expansion of the proglacial Tasman Lake. Between 2000 and 2008, the glacier terminus receded a maximum of c. 3.7 km on the western margin, and the ice-contact Tasman Lake expanded concomitantly. This northward expansion of Tasman Lake up-valley proceeded at a mean annual rate of 0.34 × 106 m2 a–1 over 2000–2008, attaining a surface area of 5.96 × 106 m2 in May 2008, with a maximum depth of c. 240 m. Terminus retreat rates (Ur) vary in both space and time, with two distinct periods of calving retreat identified during the study period: 2000–2006 (mean Ur = 54 m a–1) and 2007–2008 (mean Ur = 144 m a–1). Terminus retreat can also be categorized into two distinct zones of activity: (1) the main ice cliff (MIC), and (2) the eastern embayment ice cliff (EEIC). During the period 2000–2006, and between 2006 and 2008 for the EEIC, the controlling process of ice loss at the terminus was iceberg calving resulting from thermal undercutting. In contrast, the retreat of the MIC between 2006 and 2008 was controlled by buoyancy-driven iceberg calving caused by decreasing overburden pressure as a result of supraglacial pond growth, increased water depth, and rainfall. The presence of a >130-m-long subaqueous ice ramp projecting from the terminal ice cliff into the lake suggests complex interactions between the glacier and ice-contact lake during the 8–10 km of possible future calving retreat.