December 20, 2011

Mueller Glacier retreat Lake Expansion, New Zealand

Posted by Mauri Pelto

hooker compare

Glacier change revealed in Landsat images from 1990 and 2015.  Mueller Glacier (M) and Hooker Glacier (H). The red arrow indicates 1990 terminus location, the yellow arrow indicates 2015 terminus location and the purple arrow indicates upglacier thinning.

Volume loss in New Zealand glaciers is dominated by 12 large glaciers. The NIWA glacier monitoring program has noted that volume of ice in New Zealand’s Southern Alps has decreased 5.8 cubic kilometres, more than 10% in the past 30 years. More than 90% of this loss is from 12 of the largest glaciers in response to rising temperatures over the 20th century. Three of these glaciers are the Tasman, Mueller and Hooker Glacier. Mueller and Hooker Glacier are one valley west of the Tasman Glacier and end in the same valley ending just 3 km apart. Description of the retreat and the role of glacier lakes in accelerating the reteat of Tasman Glacier is discussed in detail in Dykes et al (2011). If we look back to the 1972 Mount Cook Map no lakes are evident at the terminus of Hooker (H), Mueller (M) or Tasman Glacier(T), pink dots indicate terminus location, top image. In 2011 the Landsat image illustrates that this has become a new lake district, bottom image.

1972 Map of region when Tasman, Mueller and Hooker Glacier lacked proglacial lakes and Landsat image in 2011 after lake development.

Mueller Glacier drains the eastern side of Mount Sefton, Mount Thompson and Mount Isabel. The lower section of the glacier is debris covered in the valley reach from the terminus at 1000 m to 1250 m. A comparison of the Mueller Glacier in a sequence of Landsat images indicates a fringing discontinuous area of water along the southern glacier margin in 1990. In 2000  the lake at the end of Hooker Glacier had developed and was 400 meters long. By 2004 the Mueller Glacier Lake had expanded to a length of 700 meters. By 2011 the lake had reached 1400 meters in length. By 2015 the lake had reached 1800 meters in length. Mueller Lake had a surface area of 0.87km2 and a maximum depth of 83m (Robertson et al, 2012). The 1500 m retreat from 1990-2015 will continue in the future as the lower 2 km section of the glacier is stagnant.

Mueller Glacier drains into Lake Pukaki,a along with Murchison,Hooker and Tasman Glacier, where water level has been raised 9 m for hydropower purposes. Water from Lake Pukaki is sent through a canal into the Lake Ohau watershed and then through six hydropower plants of the Waitaki hydro scheme: Ohau A, B and C. Benmore, Aviemore and Waitaki with a combined output of 1340 MW.  Meridian owns and operates all six hydro stations located from Lake Pūkaki to Waitaki. Reductions in glacier area in the watershed will lead to reduced summer runoff into the Lake Pukaki system.


A closer look at the lower Mueller Glacier indicates that the lower 2 km is stagnant as indicated by the formation of supraglacial lakes and considerable surface roughness (green arrow) that does not occur when a glacier is active and moving. The glacier has been fed by three different glaciers flowing off of Mount Sefton. Two of them Tuckett and Huddlesoton (pink arrow) are no longer delivering significant ice to the Mueller, only modest avalanching now spills onto the Mueller Glacier. Only the Frind Glacier (yellow arrow) is contributing to the Mueller Glacier. The result is that the end of truly active ice is at the purple arrow, this will develop into the terminus of the Mueller Glacier. In the 2011 image of the glacier the yellow-burgundy arrow indicates the snowline on the Frind Glacier is at 1900 meters, yielding too small of an accumulation zone to support the valley tongue of the Mueller Glacier. This is similar to the situation on nearby Murchison Glacier. Further the lack of ice connection from Huddleston and Tuckett Glaciers to Mueller is again evident, pink arrow. The lake will continue to expand through minor calving and downwasting. The lake has not been surveyed, but seems to lack the depth at the current terminus of Tasman Lake where calving can be more important.