July 4, 2009

Honeycomb Glacier Retreat, New Lake Formation

Posted by Mauri Pelto

Honeycomb Glacier is one of the longest and largest glaciers in the North Cascades. It is currently 3.7 km long and has an area of 3.1 km2. It has retreated 2.05 kilometers since its Little Ice Age Maximum. The glacier was an imposing site to C.E. Rusk who recounted his early 20th century exploration (1924). Like all 47 glaciers observed by the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project it has retreated significantly since 1979.

A 1960 photograph taken by Austin Post shows the glacier ending with no lake at its terminus. The terminus is gentle and has no crevasses, indicating it is relatively stagnant and poised to melt away. The glacier has retreated 1.3 km from its Little Ice Age moraines at this point. In 1967 another Austin Post image indicates a new small lake forming at the terminus.
honeycomb In 1995 we visited the margin of this lake, where the glacier ended in 1967 and took a photograph back to the glacier. As seen below retreat to this point was 400 m. honeycomb  1995 A pair of images from Bill Arundell in 1973 and Lowell Skoog in 2006 indicate the scale of the retreat, these images do not show the actual terminus but do show the main nunatak-rock island and how much it has become exposed in the 33 years. This nunatak was hardly evident in 1960, and in a 1940 image of the glacier literally did not yet exist.honeycomb-glacier-1977-2006 The terminus had retreated 400 m from the 1967 position to 1995. In 1987 a new lake began to form at the terminus of the glacier at 1680 m. The glacier is shown ending in this lake in 2002 from both the far end of the lake and the nunatak above the lake, the glacier had retreated 210 m since 1995. In 2006 the glacier retreated from the end of this lake. This is a shallow lake that may eventually be filled in by glacier sediments. The terminus is flat and stagnant ending at 1680 m in the lake. Thus, the rapid retreat will continue, the glacier is still not close to acheiving a post LIA equilibrium. Glacier retreat from 1940-1967 averaged 9 m/year. Retreat was minor between 1967 and 1979. The retreat rate since 1979 has been greater than 38 m/year, with a total retreat of 700 m. The nunatak in the middle of the glacier, which was beneath the ice in 1940 is now 90 m above the ice. The section of the glacier below the nunatak in 2002 is stagnant with no crevasses. honeycomb new lakehoneycomb2002aIndicating this glacier will retreat at least to the base of this rock knob, which will then no longer be a nunatak. A comparison of Google Earth Imagery from 1998 and 2009 illustrate the appearance of numerous new bedrock knobs in the area where there was an icefall in 1995.
survive The upper portion of the glacier has retained its snowcover in recent years indicating the glacier can survive current climate at a much smaller size.honeycomb2002b