Articles | Volume 10, issue 4
Research article
22 Aug 2016
Research article |  | 22 Aug 2016

Rapid glacial retreat on the Kamchatka Peninsula during the early 21st century

Colleen M. Lynch, Iestyn D. Barr, Donal Mullan, and Alastair Ruffell

Abstract. Monitoring glacier fluctuations provides insights into changing glacial environments and recent climate change. The availability of satellite imagery offers the opportunity to view these changes for remote and inaccessible regions. Gaining an understanding of the ongoing changes in such regions is vital if a complete picture of glacial fluctuations globally is to be established. Here, satellite imagery (Landsat 7, 8 and ASTER) is used to conduct a multi-annual remote sensing survey of glacier fluctuations on the Kamchatka Peninsula (eastern Russia) over the 2000–2014 period. Glacier margins were digitised manually and reveal that, in 2000, the peninsula was occupied by 673 glaciers, with a total glacier surface area of 775.7 ± 27.9 km2. By 2014, the number of glaciers had increased to 738 (reflecting the fragmentation of larger glaciers), but their surface area had decreased to 592.9 ± 20.4 km2. This represents a  ∼  24 % decline in total glacier surface area between 2000 and 2014 and a notable acceleration in the rate of area loss since the late 20th century. Analysis of possible controls indicates that these glacier fluctuations were likely governed by variations in climate (particularly rising summer temperatures), though the response of individual glaciers was modulated by other (non-climatic) factors, principally glacier size, local shading and debris cover.

Short summary
Early 21st century changes in the extent of glaciers on Kamchatka were manually mapped from satellite imagery. This revealed 673 glaciers, with a total surface area of 775.7 ± 27.9 km2 in 2000, and 738 glaciers, with a total area of 592.9 ± 20.4 km2 in 2014. This ~24 % decline in glacier surface area is considered to reflect variations in climate (particularly rising summer temperatures), though the response of individual glaciers was likely modulated by other (non-climatic) factors.