Late Pleistocene climate inferred from the reconstruction of the Taylor River glacier complex, southern Sawatch Range, Colorado

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Abstract

Ice surface topography of a late Pleistocene glacier complex, herein named the Taylor River Glacier Complex (TRGC), was reconstructed on the basis of detailed mapping of glacial landforms combined with analyses of aerial photos and topographic maps. During the last glacial maximum (LGM), the TRGC covered an area of 215 km2 and consisted of five valley or outlet glaciers that were nourished by accumulation in cirques basins and/or upland ice fields. Equilibrium-line altitudes (ELAs) for the glaciers of the TRGC were estimated using the accumulation-area ratio method, assuming that ratio to be 0.65 ± 0.05. ELAs thus derived ranged from about 3275 to 3400 m, with a mean of 3340 ± 60 m. A degree-day model (DDM) was used to infer the climatic significance of the LGM ELA. With no appreciable differences in precipitation with respect to modern climate, the ELA implies that mean summer temperatures during the LGM were ∼7.6 °C cooler than today. The DDM was also used to determine the temperatures required to maintain steady-state mass balances for each of the reconstructed glaciers. The required reductions in summer temperature vary little about a mean of 7.1 °C. The sensitivity of these results to slight (± 25%) changes assumed for LGM precipitation are less than ± 0.5 °C. Even under an LGM climate in which precipitation is assumed to be substantially different (± 50%) than the present, mean summer temperatures must be on the order of 7.0 to 8.5 °C lower to depress equilibrium lines to LGM altitudes. The greater sensitivity of the ELA to changes in temperature suggests that glaciation in the region was driven more by decreases in summer temperature rather than increases in precipitation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)318-329
Number of pages12
JournalGeomorphology
Volume75
Issue number3-4
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2006

Keywords

  • Colorado
  • Equilibrium-line altitudes
  • Glaciation
  • Pleistocene climate
  • Sawatch Range

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