Articles | Volume 10, issue 3
Research article
24 Jun 2016
Research article |  | 24 Jun 2016

Accelerating retreat and high-elevation thinning of glaciers in central Spitsbergen

Jakub Małecki

Abstract. Svalbard is a heavily glacier-covered archipelago in the Arctic. Dickson Land (DL), in the central part of the largest island, Spitsbergen, is relatively arid and, as a result, glaciers there are relatively small and restricted mostly to valleys and cirques. This study presents a comprehensive analysis of glacier changes in DL based on inventories compiled from topographic maps and digital elevation models for the Little Ice Age (LIA) maximum, the 1960s, 1990, and 2009/2011. Total glacier area has decreased by  ∼ 38 % since the LIA maximum, and front retreat increased over the study period. Recently, most of the local glaciers have been consistently thinning in all elevation bands, in contrast to larger Svalbard ice masses which remain closer to balance. The mean 1990–2009/2011 geodetic mass balance of glaciers in DL is among the most negative from the Svalbard regional means known from the literature.

Short summary
Svalbard is a major terrestrial ice repository in the Arctic. This paper characterizes response of glaciers in its central part (Dickson Land) to climate change. After the Little Ice Age termination (ca. 1900) all glaciers have been retreating with an accelerating trend. After 1990 they have been thinning also in their highest zones, so most of them may be expected to disappear. These negative changes are linked to increasing air temperature over the region and contribute to sea-level rise.