Climate Dynamics

, Volume 42, Issue 11–12, pp 3039–3060 | Cite as

The Little Ice Age climate of New Zealand reconstructed from Southern Alps cirque glaciers: a synoptic type approach

  • Andrew Lorrey
  • Nicolas Fauchereau
  • Craig Stanton
  • Petra Chappell
  • Steven Phipps
  • Andrew Mackintosh
  • James Renwick
  • Ian Goodwin
  • Anthony Fowler


Little Ice Age (LIA) austral summer temperature anomalies were derived from palaeoequilibrium line altitudes at 22 cirque glacier sites across the Southern Alps of New Zealand. Modern analog seasons with temperature anomalies akin to the LIA reconstructions were selected, and then applied in a sampling of high-resolution gridded New Zealand climate data and global reanalysis data to generate LIA climate composites at local, regional and hemispheric scales. The composite anomaly patterns assist in improving our understanding of atmospheric circulation contributions to the LIA climate state, allow an interrogation of synoptic type frequency changes for the LIA relative to present, and provide a hemispheric context of the past conditions in New Zealand. An LIA summer temperature anomaly of −0.56 °C (±0.29 °C) for the Southern Alps based on palaeo-equilibrium lines compares well with local tree-ring reconstructions of austral summer temperature. Reconstructed geopotential height at 1,000 hPa (z1000) suggests enhanced southwesterly flow across New Zealand occurred during the LIA to generate the terrestrial temperature anomalies. The mean atmospheric circulation pattern for summer resulted from a crucial reduction of the ‘HSE’-blocking synoptic type (highs over and to the west of NZ; largely settled conditions) and increases in both the ‘T’- and ‘SW’-trough synoptic types (lows passing over NZ; enhanced southerly and southwesterly flow) relative to normal. Associated land-based temperature and precipitation anomalies suggest both colder- and wetter-than-normal conditions were a pervasive component of the base climate state across New Zealand during the LIA, as were colder-than-normal Tasman Sea surface temperatures. Proxy temperature and circulation evidence were used to corroborate the spatially heterogeneous Southern Hemisphere composite z1000 and sea surface temperature patterns generated in this study. A comparison of the composites to climate mode archetypes suggests LIA summer climate and atmospheric circulation over New Zealand was driven by increased frequency of weak El Niño-Modoki in the tropical Pacific and negative Southern Annular Mode activity.


Little Ice Age New Zealand Glaciers Equilibrium line altitude Synoptic types Southern Hemisphere Palaeoclimate 



This work was supported by core funding NIWA receives from the government of New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Industry and Enterprise as part of the ‘Climate Present and Past’ project. Additional support was provided by the Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fund (awarded to AML). Jonathan Palmer is thanked for providing the Oroko Swamp temperature reconstruction data. Trevor Chinn is thanked for discussing details of Southern Alps cirque glaciers. This work is a contribution from New Zealand to the PAGES AUS2 k effort.

Supplementary material

382_2013_1876_MOESM1_ESM.docx (520 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 519 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew Lorrey
    • 1
  • Nicolas Fauchereau
    • 1
  • Craig Stanton
    • 1
  • Petra Chappell
    • 1
  • Steven Phipps
    • 2
  • Andrew Mackintosh
    • 3
  • James Renwick
    • 4
  • Ian Goodwin
    • 5
  • Anthony Fowler
    • 6
  1. 1.National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Ltd.AucklandNew Zealand
  2. 2.CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Flagship, ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, Climate Change Research CentreUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Victoria University WellingtonAntarctic Research CentreWellingtonNew Zealand
  4. 4.Victoria University WellingtonSchool of Geography, Earth SciencesWellingtonNew Zealand
  5. 5.Marine Climate Risk Group, Climate Futures and Department of Environment and GeographyMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  6. 6.University of Auckland, School of EnvironmentAucklandNew Zealand

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