, Volume 6, Issue 3-4, pp 213-220

Paleoclimatic inferences from glacial fluctuations on Svalbard during the last 20 000 years

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Abstract

The climate history of western Spitsbergen, Svalbard is deduced from variations of glaciers during the last 20 000 years. A major depression of the regional equilibrium line altitude (ELA) occurred during the Late Weichselian glacial maximum (18000–13000y ago) when low summer temperatures may have caused year-round snow accumulation on the ground. This rapid expansion of the glaciers also indicates nearby moisture sources, suggesting partly open conditions in the Norwegian Sea during the summers. A rapid glacial retreat around 13 000–12 500 y BP was caused by a sudden warming. During the Younger Dryas the ELA along the extreme western coast of Spitsbergen was not significantly lower than at present. In contrast to Fennoscandia, the British Isles and the Alps, there is no evidence for readvance of local glaciers during Younger Dryas on western Spitsbergen. This difference is attributed to a much dryer climate on Spitsbergen and probably only slight changes in sea surface temperatures. In addition, summer melting in this high arctic area is more sensitive to orbitally increased insolation. Around 10 000 y BP another rapid warming occurred and during early and mid Holocene the summer temperatures were significantly higher than at present. A temperature decline during the late Holocene caused regrowth of the glaciers which reached their maximum Holocene position during the last century.

Contribution to Clima Locarno — Past and Present Climate Dynamics; Conference September 1990, Swiss Academy of Sciences — National Climate Program