September 14, 2022

Freemanbreen, Svalbard Retreat Leads to Island Formation

Posted by Mauri Pelto

Freemanbreen in 1990 and 2022 Landsat images.  Both are years with limited retained snowcover (S) and some area of retained firn (F). The glacier has retreated from a new island that had formed at Point D. At Point A-C glacier melt and resultant thinning has exposed and expanded bedrock areas.

Freemanbreen is the primary southern outlet glacier of the icecap that dominates Barentsøya, Svlabard. Here we examine Landsat imagery from 1990-2022 to illustrate the the impact of climate change on this glacier. Dowdeswell and Bamber (1995) report that Freemanbreen last surged in 1956 and has retreated since, and that most of its bed is above sea level. Morris et al (2020) note a thinning rate of -0.6 m/year for the area from 2011-2017 that is driven by atmospheric temperature and sea surface temperature warming.

In 1990 Freemanbreen experienced a year of extensive melt with limited retained snowpack (S), there is some retained firn which does retain some percolating meltwater from the snowpack. The glacier extended beyond its fjord ending in a convex tidewater front in Freeman Sound. By 2010 the glacier had retreated into the fjord and was pinned on an island in the center of the fjord. By 2013 the glacier had pulled back from the island and the terminus has since developed a concave terminus front. In 2022 the glacier has retreated 800 m from the island  (Arrow-Point D) and 1.8 km from its 1990 position. The tidewater front has been reduced from 2.8 km to 1.3 km. The reduction in calving has not offset the increase in glacier melt resulting in continued retreat. The surface melt has led to surface thinning and the expansion or exposure of bedrock areas amidst Freemanbreen at Point A-C. In 2022 the glacier experienced another summer of extensive melt, likely the most extensive melt in the region in at least the last 50 years (Climato-Liege University).  This left the glacier largely bare of snowpack, with less than 5% snowcover in the area above 500 m near Point C and limited retained firnpack from previous years note NW of Point B. The ice cap summit is in the 600 m range. This loss is similar but not as complete as obseved on the ice caps of Edgeøya.

Left image aerial photograph from TopoSvalbard, at right Sentinel 2 image from 2022. Island indicated by arrow.

Freemanbreen surface conditions in Sentinel image from 8-19-2022, snow cover (S), Firn Cover (F.)