May 2, 2010

Donne Glacier Retreat New Zealand

Posted by Mauri Pelto

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Donne Glacier from 2003-2012 in Google Earth images.  Red arrow is the 2003 terminus and yellow arrow the 2012 terminus.

Donne Glacier descends the spectacular east face of Mount Tutoka in southwest New Zealand. This glacier has been undergoing rapid retreat this decade creating a new alpine lake. The National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA) conducts an annual survey of the snowline of New Zealand glaciers. In order to thrive a glacier must have at 50-70% of its area snowcovered at the end of the summer melt season. For NZ glacier NIWA has noted 67% as the key to equilibrium conditions. If then snowline is above normal the glacier will lose mass, if the snowline is lower than normal the glacier will gain mass. Since 2000 the snowline has been above normal in nine of the ten years, only in 2005 was the snowline slightly lower than normal (NIWA, 2010). In 2009 the snowline was the highest of any of the years. In 2000 the glacier extended to within 150 m of the far shore of the developing proglacial lake.  By 2003 retreat had led to the lake expansion to over 450 m.  By 2010 further lake expansion to 700 m indicated continued retreat.  By 2012 the glacier had nearly retreated out of the lake, which was now 1150 m wide, representing a retreat of 1000-1050 m since 2000.

The result of a decade of high snowline’s is glacier mass loss and retreat. Below is Donne Glacier in 2000 and  2009 of Donne Glacier from NIWA

In 2000 the glacier reaches almost all the way across the newly forming unnamed lake. By 2003 the large debris covered section has detached and the lake has doubled in size. In 2006 the faint orange line indicates the 2003 terminus position. The retreat of 100 meters has led to further lake expansion. In the 2009 images the glacier is still ending in the expanding lake, and is still actively flowing. The number of crevasses and the snowcover existing even in poor snow years such as 2003, 2006 and 2009 indicate the glacier still has a persistent accumulation zone. The glacier begins near 2200 meters and descends to about 1300 meters in 2 kilometers. A persistent accumulation zone is key to survival. The retreat and formation of new alpine lakes is also occurring at two nearby glaciers that NIWA observes. Gunn Glacier (below) and Park Pass Glacier (above), in the Google Earth images. Both glaciers end in lakes still occupied by icebergs that used to be part the terminus of the glacier. The icebergs did not calve off so much as representing disintegration of the terminus. The tongue visible on Park Pass Glacier in the middle of the lake is now gone.