June 9, 2022

Hayesbreen, Svalbard Retreat Generating Separation

Posted by Mauri Pelto

Hayesbreen (HB), Heuglinbreen (HE) and Konigsbergbreen (KB) terminating in Mohnbutka (M) in 2002 and 2021 Landsat imagery. Retreat to Point E, and reduction in connection at Point B is evident and distance from Point A to the terminus. 

Hayesbreen, Heuglinbreen and Konigsbergbreen merge forming a single tidewater front in Mohnbutka on the east coast of Svalbard. Here we examine the retreat of this glacier system and ongoing separation of Hayesbreen and Heuglinbreen with Landsat imagery from 2002-2021. Blaszczyk et al’s (2009) identified 163 Svalbard tidewater glaciers with the total length calving ice−cliffs at 860 km for the 2001-2006 period. They observed that 14 glaciers had retreated from the ocean to the land over the last 30–40 year period. They noted that Hayesbreen was retreating 20-40 m per year in 2003-2005 and had a 4 km long ice cliff terminating in Mohnbutka. They noted the glacier last surged i 1901. Sevestre et al (2018) documented two mechanisms that help generate terminus initiated surges, tidewater retreat from a pinning point and/or crevasses allowing meltwater rainwater to access the bed.  the terminus zone near Point 1.

In 2002 the prominent lateral moraines of Hayesbreen extended 5 km from Point A to the terminus. The glacier margin adjacent to Point B was 2.75 km to the terminus junction of Hayesbreen and Heuglingbreeen. By 2015 there was only 1.2 km of ice between Point B and the terminus, while from Point A to the margin was 3 km. The snowline in 2020 reached between 400-450 m near the ice divide on Heuglinbreen and close to the top of Konigsbergbreen. Hayesbreen extends above 800 m and still had an extensive accumulation area. By August 2021 the now disconnected lateral moraines from the upper glacier extend 2 km from Point A to the terminus, and there is just 0.6 km of ice connecting Heuglinbreen to Hayesbreen. The center of the glacier front has retreated 2.25 km since 2002. Mohnbutka has expanded as the glaciers have retreated. The ice connection between Heuglinbreen and Hayesbreen has narrowed from 3 km to 0.6 km during the period. This is similar to the separation at Strongbreen.

Sevestre et al (2018) noted a distinctive crevasse development pattern of terminus initiated surge progression, “Upward migration of the surge coincided with stepwise expansion of the crevasse field”, for specific observed recent surges in Svalbard. There is no evidence of this process at Hayesbreen during the last 20 years as it retreats and separates.


Map of the region fro TopoSvalbard, and August 8, 2021 Sentinel image illustrating the limited connection between Hayesbreen and Heuglinbreen.

Hayesbreen (HB), Heuglinbreen (HE) and Konigsbergbreen (KB) terminating in Mohnbutka in 2015 and 2020 Landsat imagery. The narrowing ice connection at Point B and reduction in glacier extending beyond Point A is evident. The high snowline in 2020 exposes considerable ablation area