Articles | Volume 11, issue 1
Research article
24 Jan 2017
Research article |  | 24 Jan 2017

Recent changes in area and thickness of Torngat Mountain glaciers (northern Labrador, Canada)

Nicholas E. Barrand, Robert G. Way, Trevor Bell, and Martin J. Sharp

Abstract. The Torngat Mountains National Park, northern Labrador, Canada, contains more than 120 small glaciers: the only remaining glaciers in continental northeast North America. These small cirque glaciers exist in a unique topo-climatic setting, experiencing temperate maritime summer conditions yet very cold and dry winters, and may provide insights into the deglaciation dynamics of similar small glaciers in temperate mountain settings. Due to their size and remote location, very little information exists regarding the health of these glaciers. Just a single study has been published on the contemporary glaciology of the Torngat Mountains, focusing on net mass balances from 1981 to 1984. This paper addresses the extent to which glaciologically relevant climate variables have changed in northern Labrador in concert with 20th-century Arctic warming, and how these changes have affected Torngat Mountain glaciers. Field surveys and remote-sensing analyses were used to measure regional glacier area loss of 27 % from 1950 to 2005, substantial rates of ice surface thinning (up to 6 m yr−1) and volume losses at Abraham, Hidden, and Minaret glaciers, between 2005 and 2011. Glacier mass balances appear to be controlled by variations in winter precipitation and, increasingly, by strong summer and autumn atmospheric warming since the early 1990s, though further observations are required to fully understand mass balance sensitivities. This study provides the first comprehensive contemporary assessment of Labrador glaciers and will inform both regional impact assessments and syntheses of global glacier mass balance.

Short summary
This paper provides a comprehensive assessment of the state of small glaciers in the Canadian province of Labrador. These glaciers, the last in continental northeast North America, exist in heavily shaded locations within the remote Torngat Mountains National Park. Fieldwork, and airborne and spaceborne remote-sensing analyses were used to measure regional glacier area changes and individual glacier thinning rates. These results were then linked to trends in prevailing climatic conditions.