September 24, 2010

Neumayer Glacier, South Georgia Retreat

Posted by Mauri Pelto

South Georgia sits amidst the circum Antarctic westerlies. This region is famous for the endless march of storms parading around Antarctica. The island is south of the Antarctic Convergence, preventing any truly warm season from persisting. The cool maritime climate leads to numerous glaciers covering a majority of the island and quite low equilibrium line altitudes. Sugden, Clapperton and Pelto (1989-sorry no good link to this paper, one of the first I worked on), 1989 noted the ELA of Neumayer Glacier at 550 m. The tidewater glaciers of South Georgia in general maintained fairly advanced positions unitl 1980. Gordon et al., (2008) observed that larger tidewater and sea-calving valley and outlet glaciers generally remained in relatively advanced positions until the 1980s. After 1980 most glaciers receded; some of these retreats have been dramatic and a number of small mountain glaciers will soon disappear. Neumayer Glacier is one of the large tidewater glaciers on South Georgia. Maps from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and satellite imagery are used here to assess the changes in this glacier terminus position. A view of the entire glacier in 2006 from Google Earth, from beyond its calving terminus, indicates indicates the glacier remains vigorous with extensive crevassing at the calving front and extensive snowcover above the ELA.The BAS has a mapping function that provides glacier front positions since early in the 20th century. For Neumayer Glacier the 1938 position is 3.5 km down fjord from the 2006 position. There was essentially no retreat up to 1974 and limited retreat up to 1993.

BAS Glacier front map

In 2004 and 2009 NASA provided two images of Neumayer Glacier indicating retreat from 2004 when the glacier extended to the down fjord edge of a tributary glacier from the south. By 2009 the glacier has retreated upglacier of this now former tributary, this retreat is 1300 m. Landsat Image from 1999 to 2014 indicates retreat of 4800 m from the red to the green arrow , this is 320 m/year. The glacier appears to have retreated into a deeper section of the fjord then where it ended from 1970-2002. This will enhance calving from the glacier, and promote additional mass loss and retreat. This retreat will impact Konig Glacier which is connected to the Neumayer Glacier. Calving rate increases with water depth and the degree of glacier. Pelto and Warren (1991) provided an expanded version of the relationship first quantified by Brown and others (1982). In the you would have never guessed it category, is the glacier retreat has been an aid to the rat population, as the glacier tongues used to corner populations.

NASA Image 2004 above and 2009 below

2009 Image
neumayer 1999
1999 Landsat Image
newmayer 2014
2014 Landsat Image