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Reliability of a Fjord Glacier's Fluctuations for Paleoclimatic Reconstructions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Daniel H. Mann*
Affiliation:
College of Forest Resources and Quaternary Research Center, AR-10, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195

Abstract

Historical observations of fjord glaciers in southern Alaska suggest that their fluctuations may be asynchronous with one another and with climate. Possible causes for anomalous fjord glacier response to climatic changes involve the instabilities inherent in a calving terminus, the interaction of fjord geometry with the extent of the calving terminus, and the intersection of low-lying snow line by a thickening glacier. The Lituya glacier system in southeast Alaska is analyzed with reference to these phenomena to test the reliability of its Holocene glacial deposits as paleoclimatic records. This fjord glacier is shown to have been probably free of major, nonclimatic responses during the Holocene except for an insensitive period of up to 1000 yr that followed calving retreats. The insensitive period has no functional effect on how the relatively coarse geologic record is interpreted in terms of paleoclimate. However, it makes impossible any inference of climatic trends from this glacier's behavior in historical times. Fjord glacier deposits can be dependable records of paleoclimate but each glacier requires careful scrutiny. Anomalous glacier responses to climate are most likely to occur in fjords of complex geometry, in regions of relatively low snow line, and where glaciers terminate at fjord mouths bordering the open sea.

Type
Original Articles
Copyright
University of Washington

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