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Abstract

This paper reports on a morphometric analysis of land-terminating glaciers on southern and western Spitsbergen in the years 1936–2014. An attempt was made to estimate the deglaciation rate and the scale of its acceleration in the 21st century in the conditions of Arctic amplification. Satellite scenes and topographic map sheets were used for the study and were analyzed by means of remote sensing and GIS methods. The study covered 2000–2014 years and concluded that surface recession accelerated on average by a factor of 2.75 compared to the 1936–2000 period, while linear recession was 2.2 times faster. The greatest increase in the deglaciation rate can be observed in the case of glaciers faced to N and W sectors. The deglaciation process is the most advanced in the central part of the island, where small, compact mountain glaciers predominate. In recent years, a slowdown in the deglaciation processes in these glaciers was observed. The studies demonstrate that the deglaciation rate was mainly influenced by the basin relief determining the glacier geometry. The resultant fractal nature of the ice cover makes it highly vulnerable to the disintegration of complex glacial systems into smaller ones due to glacier thinning and the separation of outlets. The acceleration of the deglaciation rate in turn is modified by the climate factor, especially the impact of warming air masses from the N and W sectors where seas are becoming increasingly ice-free and, consequently, have an increasing heat capacity.
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Abstract

Twelve glaciers, representing various types, were investigated between 2000 and 2005, in a region adjacent to the northern reaches of Billefjorden, central Spitsbergen ( Svalbard ). On the basis of measurements taken using reference points, DGPS and GPS systems, analyses of aerial photographs and satellite images, geomorphological indicators and archival data their rates of deglaciation following the “Little Ice Age” (LIA) maximum were calculated variously on centennial, decadal and annual time scales. As most Svalbard glaciers have debris-covered snouts, a clean ice margin was measured in the absence of debris-free ice front. The retreat rates for both types of ice fronts were very similar. All studied glaciers have been retreating since the termination of the Little Ice Age at the end of 19th century. The fastest retreat rate was observed in the case of the Nordenskiöldbreen tidewater glacier (mean average linear retreat rate 35 m a-1). For land-terminating glaciers the rates were in range of 5 to 15 m a-1. Presumably owing to climate warming, most of the glacier retreat rates have increased several fold in recent decades. The secondary factors influencing the retreat rates have been identified as: water depth at the grounding line in the case of tidewater glaciers, surging history, altitude, shape and aspect of glacier margin, and bedrock relief. The retreat rates are similar to glaciers from other parts of Spitsbergen . Analyses of available data on glacier retreat rates in Svalbard have allowed us to distinguish four major types: very dynamic, surging tidewater glaciers with post-LIA retreat rates of between 100 and 220 m a-1, other tidewater glaciers receding of a rate of 15 to 70 m a-1, land terminating valley polythermal glaciers with an average retreat of 10 to 20 m a-1 and small, usually cold, glaciers with the retreat rates below 10 m a-1.
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