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Sogn og Fjordane, 6848

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The Norwegian Glacier Museum offers entertainment and education for the whole family. The Norwegian Glacier Museum is a official visitor centre of the Jostedalsbreen National Park.

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Filtering by Tag: Climate change

Visual proofs of glacier retreat

Pål Gran Kielland

The Norwegian Glacier Museum & Ulltveit-Moe climate centre has, since the opening in 1991, naturally, been interested in the glaciers and their development. The trend today is glacier retreat, but one glacier has advanced.

Bøyabreen Glacier 2016. Photo: Pål Gran Kielland.

We are responsible for glacier front position measurements on a few nearby glaciers, but results presented as statistics and numbers doesn’t always make sense for everyone. Today, the glacier retreat makes measurements difficult on some glaciers. But we still can capture their behavior by camera, which is a great tool to follow the development. We are especially interested in the two most famous glaciers in Fjærland, which are Bøyabreen and Supphellebreen. Due do difficulties doing measurements on them we had to stop the time series in 2014. Already in 2014 we got reports about “black holes” in the glacier tongue of Bøyabreen. The hole is visible also this year and it is a clear sign that the glacier is thinning.

Bøyabreen in 1997 (photo: Stefan Winkler) and 2016 (photo: Pål Gran Kielland).

By comparing photos from 1997, when the glacier had advanced in the late 90’s, with the situation today we can see that the regenerated glacier below the icefall is almost melted away. Exposed bedrock under and around the glacier tongue gets increasingly visible. The changes since the late 90s are big. From 2003 to 2014, when we started the measurement program, the glacier has retreated 160 metres.

Store Supphellebreen in 1997 (photo: Stefan Winkler) and 2016 (photo: Pål Gran Kielland).

When we look at glacier Store Supphellebreen it is also clear that the regenerated part of the glacier is shrinking. We did measurements from 2002 to 2014 and registered 70 metres retreat.

Big boulder in 1899 (photo: John Bernhard Rekstad) and 2016 (photo: Pål Gran Kielland).

Quite recently we discovered a big boulder that originally was used as a marker to measure the glacier front position back in 1899. It was geologist John Bernhard Rekstad (1852-1934) who first used the boulder as a marker. In 1899 the distance to the glacier was 77 metres, but today it is over 400 metres. This means the glacier has retreated over 300 metres since 1899. In the photo from 1899 it is Mr. Rekstad himself standing beside the boulder, while it is the operations manager at the Glacier Museum, Svein Arne Bøyum, who is appearing in the new photo.

Store Supphellebreen (Flatbreen) in 1906 (photo: Monchton) and 2012 (photo: Pål Gran Kielland)

At higher altitudes we also see changes. About 100 years ago, glacier Store Supphellebreen, formed a large terminal moraine. In the years since, the glacier development has been negative. To put it in simple words: it is like the air is going out of the balloon…

Glacier front position measurements
In 2016 we have measured the glacier front positions at Haugabreen in Jølster and Vetle Supphellebreen in Fjærland. The results show that Haugabreen has retreated 15 metres since 2015. We started to measure this glacier in 2013 and the total retreat is 35 metres.

Haugabreen in 2016 (photo: Pål Gran Kielland)

Vetle Supphellebreen advanced 16 metres this year. The overall trend is glacier retreat because of a warming climate. The snow accumulation is usually very large every winter, but apparently not enough to stop the glacier reduction over time. The advance is therefore interesting. We don’t have other data from this glacier, but the automatic weather station next to the Glacier Museum shows precipitation levels above normal in the period 2011-2015. Large amounts of snow may play a part in the explanation on the glacier advance.  Other factors that contribute to glacier formation and changes of glaciers are a complex interplay between temperature, latitude, altitude, relief, aspect and maritimity. Since we started to measure the glacier in 2011 it has advanced 2 metres.

By the front of Vetle Supphellebreen in 2016 (photo: Pål Gran Kielland).

Data series from glacier measurements under threat

Pål Gran Kielland

The measurements of annual front position changes has discovered that 2 of 4 glaciers may be difficult to survey properly in the future.

Since 2003 and 1992 the Bøyabreen and Supphellebreen glaciers in Fjærland, respectively, has been part of our glacier length change surveys. We are dependent on measuring directly at blue ice in the glacier fronts, but that has gradually been more difficult to do, due to glacier retreat and deposition of snow from avalanches. The part of the galcier we get data from is actually what looks like a pile of snow, the regenerated glacier, below the ice fall. The measurements are no longer representative for how the glaciers develop, so we got no data on these glaciers in 2015. Consequently, we still take photos every year to at least record the visual changes of the glaciers.

Bøyabreen in October 2015. Photo: Pål Gran Kielland.

But we still have two glaciers we can survey, the Vetle Supphellebreen Glacier and the Haugabreen Glacier. The former is located far up the Supphelledalen Valley. Here we measure directly on blue ice so there are no questions about this one, which advanced 8 metres in 2015. In total since 2011 it has retreated 14 metres. Since our data series only stretch back to 2011, we can't make conclusions on its behaviour concerning climate change just yet. But we know there exist data series from 1899 to 1944 where the glacier retreated over 400 metres. We also found an old picture which we can use to compare with today's situation. The pictorial evidence is clear; there is less ice today.

Vetle Supphellebreen Glacier in 1884 (photo: Steensrup, K.J.D.) and in 2015 (photo: Pål Gran Kielland).

The Haugabreen Glacier is not part of the Jostedalsbreen Ice Cap, as the three former mentioned glaciers, but it is connected to a seperate smaller ice cap called the Myklebustbreen Glacier. This glacier is located in Jølster. During the past year we found that Haugabreen Glacier retreated 7 metres. Not a big number, but in total 20 metres since we started the data series in 2013. As with Vetle Supphellebreen Glacier it is difficult to make conclusions regarding climate change, but it fits with the overall long time trend with a warmer climate and shrinking glaciers. Also here we have time series some years back in time, from the period 1933 to 1940. During those years the glacier retreated 237 metres. Additionally, we also hav an old picture which tells us about glacier retreat.

Haugabreen Glacier in the 1930s (photo: NGU) and in 2012 (photo: Pål Gran Kielland).

Now we are just entering the winter and the glaciers accumulation season. For the coming years they need large amounts of snow to withstand the increasing temperatures during melt season in the summer.