Articles | Volume 9, issue 4
Research article
07 Aug 2015
Research article |  | 07 Aug 2015

Area, elevation and mass changes of the two southernmost ice caps of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago between 1952 and 2014

C. Papasodoro, E. Berthier, A. Royer, C. Zdanowicz, and A. Langlois

Abstract. Grinnell and Terra Nivea Ice Caps are located on the southern Baffin Island, Nunavut, in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. These relatively small ice caps have received little attention compared to the much larger ice masses further north. Their evolution can, however, give valuable information about the impact of the recent Arctic warming at lower latitudes (i.e. ~ 62.5° N). In this paper, we measure or estimate historical and recent changes of area, elevation and mass of both ice caps using in situ, airborne and spaceborne data sets, including imagery from the Pléiades satellites. The area of Terra Nivea Ice Cap has decreased by 34 % since the late 1950s, while that of Grinnell Ice Cap has decreased by 20 % since 1952. For both ice caps, the areal reduction accelerated at the beginning of the 21st century. The estimated glacier-wide mass balance was −0.37 ± 0.21 m a−1 water equivalent (w.e.) over Grinnell Ice Cap for the 1952–2014 period, and −0.47 ± 0.16 m a−1 w.e. over Terra Nivea Ice Cap for the 1958/59–2014 period. Terra Nivea Ice Cap has experienced an accelerated rate of mass loss of −1.77 ± 0.36 m a−1 w.e. between 2007 and 2014. This rate is 5.9 times as negative when compared to the 1958/59–2007 period (−0.30 ± 0.19 m a−1 w.e.) and 2 times as negative when compared to the mass balance of other glaciers in the southern parts of Baffin Island over the 2003–2009 period. A similar acceleration in mass loss is suspected for the Grinnell Ice Cap, given the calculated elevation changes and the proximity to Terra Nivea Ice Cap. The recent increase in mass loss rates for these two ice caps is linked to a strong near-surface regional warming and a lengthening of the melt season into the autumn that may be indirectly strengthened by a later freezing of sea ice in the Hudson Strait sector. On a methodological level, our study illustrates the strong potential of Pléiades satellite data to unlock the under-exploited archive of old aerial photographs.

Short summary
Located at the far south (~62.5° N) of the Canadian Arctic, Grinnell and Terra Nivea Ice Caps are good climate proxies in this scarce data region. Multiple data sets (in situ, airborne and spaceborne) reveal changes in area, elevation and mass over the past 62 years. Ice wastage sharply accelerated during the last decade for both ice caps, as illustrated by the strongly negative mass balance of Terra Nivea over 2007-2014 (-1.77 ± 0.36 m a-1 w.e.). Possible climatic drivers are also discussed.