April 5, 2016

Neumayer Glacier, South Georgia, 5.6 km retreat 1999-2016

Posted by Mauri Pelto


neumayer 2016

Comparison of Neumayer Glacier in 1999 and 2016 Landsat images; red arrow indicates 1999 terminus locations, yellow arrows 2016 terminus locations. Purple arrows indicate upglacier thinning.

South Georgia sits amidst the circum Antarctic westerlies and its maritime climate leads to numerous glaciers. 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 glaciers covering a majority of the island and quite low equilibrium line altitudes. Neumayer Glacier is one of the largest tidewater glaciers on South Georgia. Sugden, Clapperton and Pelto (1989) noted the ELA of Neumayer Glacier at 550 m.

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. 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.

Landsat Images from 1999 to 2016 indicates retreat of 5600 m from the red to the yellow arrow, this is 350 m/year. A glacier dammed lake along the north shore of the fjord no longer exists in 2016. The glacier appears to have retreated into a deeper section of the fjord then where it ended from 1970-2002. The glacier is on the verge of separation into two main tributaries. This will enhance calving from the glacier, and promote additional mass loss and retreat. This retreat will impact Konig Glacier to the north, which is connected to the Neumayer Glacier. Below the comparison of terminus location from 1989 to 2015 indicates a retreat of 6700 m.  NASA Earth has piggy backed on this assessment, with excellent recent imagery. Calving rate increases with water depth.  Calving rate increases with water depth and the degree of glacier flotation. Flotation depends on water depth, ice thickness and the number of pinning points. Pelto and Warren (1991) provided an expanded version of the water depth/calving 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.

BAS Glacier front map

neumayer compare

Comparison of Neumayer Glacier in 1989 and 2015 Landsat images; red arrow indicates 1989 terminus locations, yellow arrows 2015 terminus locations.