Articles | Volume 9, issue 2
Research article
19 Mar 2015
Research article |  | 19 Mar 2015

Changes in the southeast Vatnajökull ice cap, Iceland, between ~ 1890 and 2010

H. Hannesdóttir, H. Björnsson, F. Pálsson, G. Aðalgeirsdóttir, and Sv. Guðmundsson

Abstract. Area and volume changes and the average geodetic mass balance of the non-surging outlet glaciers of the southeast Vatnajökull ice cap, Iceland, during different time periods between ~ 1890 and 2010, are derived from a multi-temporal glacier inventory. A series of digital elevation models (DEMs) (~ 1890, 1904, 1936, 1945, 1989, 2002, 2010) are compiled from glacial geomorphological features, historical photographs, maps, aerial images, DGPS measurements and a lidar survey. Given the mapped basal topography, we estimate volume changes since the end of the Little Ice Age (LIA) ~ 1890. The variable volume loss of the outlets to similar climate forcing is related to their different hypsometry, basal topography, and the presence of proglacial lakes. In the post-LIA period, the glacierized area decreased by 164 km2 (or from 1014 to 851 km2) and the glaciers had lost 10–30 % of their ~ 1890 area by 2010 (anywhere from 3 to 36 km2). The glacier surface lowered by 150–270 m near the terminus and the outlet glaciers collectively lost 60 ± 8 km3 of ice, which is equivalent to 0.15 ± 0.02 mm of sea-level rise. The volume loss of individual glaciers was in the range of 15–50%, corresponding to a geodetic mass balance between −0.70 and −0.32 m w.e. a−1. The annual rate of mass change during the post-LIA period was most negative in 2002–2010, on average −1.34 ± 0.12 m w.e. a−1, which is among the most negative mass balance values recorded worldwide in the early 21st century.