Controls on the lifespans of Icelandic ice caps

Leif S. Anderson, Áslaug Geirsdóttir, Gwenn E. Flowers, Andrew D Wickert, Guðfinna Aðalgeirsdóttir, Thorsteinn Thorsteinsson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

The increasingly common disappearance of glaciers is striking, and it is often used to highlight the effects of anthropogenic climate change to the public. This approach is more effective when modern glacier and climate change is placed within a frame of reference. Here we present a new, efficient method to assess the timing of glacier birth and death. We model equilibrium line altitudes (ELAs) of 22 Icelandic glaciers through time, and in doing so produce the first regional estimates of glacier lifespans. We force the model with three Holocene temperature reconstructions and five future-climate projections, while also exploring the effects of glacial-isostatic adjustment and variable precipitation. Mass balance parameters are tuned for each ice cap using modern data. Geologically-constrained inception ages are used to validate individual simulations. The timing of Icelandic glacier inception likely ranged from before the Holocene to as late as the Little Ice Age. Anthropogenic warming is expected to cut short the lifespans of glaciers that have existed for thousands of years. By quantifying the controlling factors we show that topography and the rate of summer temperature change are the primary controls of glacier lifespans in Iceland. Topography, represented by the difference between the modern ELA and the highest local topography, is ten-times as important as ELA sensitivity to temperature. This easy-to-measure topographic metric exerts a first-order control on the timing of inception and the future loss of accumulation area and it can be used to contextualize ongoing glacier disappearance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number115780
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Volume527
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

Fingerprint

Glaciers
glaciers
ice cap
Ice
caps
glacier
ice
equilibrium line
Topography
topography
time measurement
climate change
Climate change
Holocene
Iceland
temperature
mass balance
death
Temperature
climate

Keywords

  • ELA
  • Holocene
  • Neoglaciation
  • climate
  • glacier
  • inception

Cite this

Anderson, L. S., Geirsdóttir, Á., Flowers, G. E., Wickert, A. D., Aðalgeirsdóttir, G., & Thorsteinsson, T. (2019). Controls on the lifespans of Icelandic ice caps. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 527, [115780]. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.epsl.2019.115780

Controls on the lifespans of Icelandic ice caps. / Anderson, Leif S.; Geirsdóttir, Áslaug; Flowers, Gwenn E.; Wickert, Andrew D; Aðalgeirsdóttir, Guðfinna; Thorsteinsson, Thorsteinn.

In: Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Vol. 527, 115780, 01.12.2019.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Anderson, LS, Geirsdóttir, Á, Flowers, GE, Wickert, AD, Aðalgeirsdóttir, G & Thorsteinsson, T 2019, 'Controls on the lifespans of Icelandic ice caps', Earth and Planetary Science Letters, vol. 527, 115780. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.epsl.2019.115780
Anderson LS, Geirsdóttir Á, Flowers GE, Wickert AD, Aðalgeirsdóttir G, Thorsteinsson T. Controls on the lifespans of Icelandic ice caps. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 2019 Dec 1;527. 115780. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.epsl.2019.115780
Anderson, Leif S. ; Geirsdóttir, Áslaug ; Flowers, Gwenn E. ; Wickert, Andrew D ; Aðalgeirsdóttir, Guðfinna ; Thorsteinsson, Thorsteinn. / Controls on the lifespans of Icelandic ice caps. In: Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 2019 ; Vol. 527.
@article{c1fb9a62dbc24b62b562f65966d348ed,
title = "Controls on the lifespans of Icelandic ice caps",
abstract = "The increasingly common disappearance of glaciers is striking, and it is often used to highlight the effects of anthropogenic climate change to the public. This approach is more effective when modern glacier and climate change is placed within a frame of reference. Here we present a new, efficient method to assess the timing of glacier birth and death. We model equilibrium line altitudes (ELAs) of 22 Icelandic glaciers through time, and in doing so produce the first regional estimates of glacier lifespans. We force the model with three Holocene temperature reconstructions and five future-climate projections, while also exploring the effects of glacial-isostatic adjustment and variable precipitation. Mass balance parameters are tuned for each ice cap using modern data. Geologically-constrained inception ages are used to validate individual simulations. The timing of Icelandic glacier inception likely ranged from before the Holocene to as late as the Little Ice Age. Anthropogenic warming is expected to cut short the lifespans of glaciers that have existed for thousands of years. By quantifying the controlling factors we show that topography and the rate of summer temperature change are the primary controls of glacier lifespans in Iceland. Topography, represented by the difference between the modern ELA and the highest local topography, is ten-times as important as ELA sensitivity to temperature. This easy-to-measure topographic metric exerts a first-order control on the timing of inception and the future loss of accumulation area and it can be used to contextualize ongoing glacier disappearance.",
keywords = "ELA, Holocene, Neoglaciation, climate, glacier, inception",
author = "Anderson, {Leif S.} and {\'A}slaug Geirsd{\'o}ttir and Flowers, {Gwenn E.} and Wickert, {Andrew D} and Gu{\dh}finna A{\dh}algeirsd{\'o}ttir and Thorsteinn Thorsteinsson",
year = "2019",
month = "12",
day = "1",
doi = "10.1016/j.epsl.2019.115780",
language = "English (US)",
volume = "527",
journal = "Earth and Planetary Sciences Letters",
issn = "0012-821X",
publisher = "Elsevier",

}

TY - JOUR

T1 - Controls on the lifespans of Icelandic ice caps

AU - Anderson, Leif S.

AU - Geirsdóttir, Áslaug

AU - Flowers, Gwenn E.

AU - Wickert, Andrew D

AU - Aðalgeirsdóttir, Guðfinna

AU - Thorsteinsson, Thorsteinn

PY - 2019/12/1

Y1 - 2019/12/1

N2 - The increasingly common disappearance of glaciers is striking, and it is often used to highlight the effects of anthropogenic climate change to the public. This approach is more effective when modern glacier and climate change is placed within a frame of reference. Here we present a new, efficient method to assess the timing of glacier birth and death. We model equilibrium line altitudes (ELAs) of 22 Icelandic glaciers through time, and in doing so produce the first regional estimates of glacier lifespans. We force the model with three Holocene temperature reconstructions and five future-climate projections, while also exploring the effects of glacial-isostatic adjustment and variable precipitation. Mass balance parameters are tuned for each ice cap using modern data. Geologically-constrained inception ages are used to validate individual simulations. The timing of Icelandic glacier inception likely ranged from before the Holocene to as late as the Little Ice Age. Anthropogenic warming is expected to cut short the lifespans of glaciers that have existed for thousands of years. By quantifying the controlling factors we show that topography and the rate of summer temperature change are the primary controls of glacier lifespans in Iceland. Topography, represented by the difference between the modern ELA and the highest local topography, is ten-times as important as ELA sensitivity to temperature. This easy-to-measure topographic metric exerts a first-order control on the timing of inception and the future loss of accumulation area and it can be used to contextualize ongoing glacier disappearance.

AB - The increasingly common disappearance of glaciers is striking, and it is often used to highlight the effects of anthropogenic climate change to the public. This approach is more effective when modern glacier and climate change is placed within a frame of reference. Here we present a new, efficient method to assess the timing of glacier birth and death. We model equilibrium line altitudes (ELAs) of 22 Icelandic glaciers through time, and in doing so produce the first regional estimates of glacier lifespans. We force the model with three Holocene temperature reconstructions and five future-climate projections, while also exploring the effects of glacial-isostatic adjustment and variable precipitation. Mass balance parameters are tuned for each ice cap using modern data. Geologically-constrained inception ages are used to validate individual simulations. The timing of Icelandic glacier inception likely ranged from before the Holocene to as late as the Little Ice Age. Anthropogenic warming is expected to cut short the lifespans of glaciers that have existed for thousands of years. By quantifying the controlling factors we show that topography and the rate of summer temperature change are the primary controls of glacier lifespans in Iceland. Topography, represented by the difference between the modern ELA and the highest local topography, is ten-times as important as ELA sensitivity to temperature. This easy-to-measure topographic metric exerts a first-order control on the timing of inception and the future loss of accumulation area and it can be used to contextualize ongoing glacier disappearance.

KW - ELA

KW - Holocene

KW - Neoglaciation

KW - climate

KW - glacier

KW - inception

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=85072155849&partnerID=8YFLogxK

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/citedby.url?scp=85072155849&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.1016/j.epsl.2019.115780

DO - 10.1016/j.epsl.2019.115780

M3 - Article

AN - SCOPUS:85072155849

VL - 527

JO - Earth and Planetary Sciences Letters

JF - Earth and Planetary Sciences Letters

SN - 0012-821X

M1 - 115780

ER -