May 1, 2015

Snow Deficit on Grinnell Ice Cap, Baffin Island, Canada

Posted by Mauri Pelto

The Grinnell Ice Cap Is located on the Terra Incognita Peninsula on Baffin Island. The name suggests the reality that this is a not often visited or studied region. Two recent studies have changed our level of knowledge. Way (2015) notes that the ice cap has lost 18% of its area from 1974 to 2013 and that the rate of loss has greatly accelarated and is due to summer warming, declining from 134 km2 in 1973-1975 imagery to 110 square kilometers in 2010-2013 images. Papasodoro et al (2015) report the area in 2014 at 107 km2 with a maximum of elevation of close to 800 m. The location on a peninsula on the southern part of the island leads to higher precipitation and cool summer temperatures allowing fairly low elevation ice caps to have formed and persisted. Way (2015) in the figure below indicates the cool summer temperatures have warmed more than 1 C after 1990. Recent satellite imagery of snowcover and ICESat elevation mapping suggest little snow is being retained on the Grinnell Ice Cap since 2004. Papasodoro et al (2015) identify a longer mass loss rate of -0.37 meters per year from 1952-2014, not exceptionally different from many alpine glaciers. They further observed that from 2004-2014 this rate has accelerated to over -1 meter per year, including a thinning rate above 1.5 meters along the crest of ice cap. This can only be generated by net melting not ice dynamics. Further such rapid losses will prevent retaining even superimposed ice. Here we examine Landsat imagery from 1994 to 2014 to illustrate glacier response.

grinnell ice cap ge
Grinnell Ice Cap in Google Earth

gic summer climate
From Way (2015)

The red arrows in each image indicate areas of small nunataks that have begun to expand in the last decade. The yellow and green arrows indicate specific locations on the western margin of the ice cap where lakes are developing. Point A-D note specific locations adjacent to ice cap outlet glaciers. In 1994 the late August image indicates snowcover across most of the ice cap. The green arrow is at the northern end of a narrow lake. The yellows arrows are at the northern and southern end of a narrow ice filled depression. The nunatak area exposed at the red arrows is limited. At Point C the terminus is tidewater. In 2000 snow pack covers 40% of the ice cap. A small lake is developing at the yellow arrows. The glacier reaches the ocean at Point C and D. The glacier extends south of Point A and the outlet glacier at Point B is over a 1.2 km wide. In 2012 a warm summer led to the loss of all but snowpack on the glacier. At the red arrows the nunataks have doubled in size. At the yellow arrows a 2.5 km long lake has developed. At the green arrow a lake that has developed, is now separated from the glacier margin by bedrock. The glacier now terminates north of Point A. In 2014 again snowcover is minimal with two weeks left in the melt season. The outlet glaciers at Point C and D are no longer significantly tidewater. At Point B the outlet glacier is less than 0.5 km wide. The lake at the yellow arrows is 3 km long and 400 m wide. Some nunataks are coalescing with each other or the ice cap margin. The majority of the western margin of the ice cap has retreated 300-500 m. This retreat is surpassed at outlet glaciers by Point A and C. What is of greatest concern is the loss in thickness of over 1.5 per year on the highest portions of the ice cap, indicating no consistent accumulation zone. This results from the persistent loss of nearly all snowcover in the summer. This pattern of limited end of summer retained snowcover seen in most years since 2004, is a snow deficit that this ice cap cannot survive in our current warmer climate (Pelto, 2010). Way (2015) projects that that if the observed ice decline continues to AD 2100, the total area covered by ice at present will be reduced by more than 57%. Given the recent increases and lack of retained snowcover, suggests an even faster rate is likely.

GIC 1994
1994 Landsat image

gic 2000
2000 Landsat image

gic 2012 late2
2012 Landsat image

gic 2014 late2
2014 Landsat image