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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: Glaciology

Report from glacier measurements

Pål Gran Kielland

Vetle Supphellebreen Glacier is resisting the melting trend by advancing in 2017, while Haugabreen Glacier is retreating.

By the front of Vetle Supphellebreen Glacier in the start of November 2017. Photo: Pål Gran Kielland.

By the front of Vetle Supphellebreen Glacier in the start of November 2017. Photo: Pål Gran Kielland.

For glacier-interested people there are always good news when a glacier is advancing. Vetle Supphellebreen Glacier advanced for the third year in a row, this year 2 metres. The glacier retreated the first couple of years we did front position measurements, but in total the glacier has advanced 4 metres since 2011. This means the glacier is more or less stable. A surplus of snow in the measurement period may explain the glacier development. If we take a look at local weather stations we see that precipitation is above average for the period 2011-2017. There is a complex symphony which governs glacier development, but in simple terms it is the relationship between winter snow and summer temperature that determines the glacier balance between years.

Haugabreen Glacier after a snow fall in November 2017. Photo: Pål Gran Kielland.

Haugabreen Glacier after a snow fall in November 2017. Photo: Pål Gran Kielland.

The bad news is that Haugabreen Glacier is retreating. The glacier hit a negative personal record by retreating 18 metres this year. Since we started the measurement program, the glacier has a total retreat of 53 metres. We do see an increase in precipitation by looking at data from nearby weather stations, but this is probably not sufficient to resist the melting. 

The changes in glacial extension tells us something about changes in climate. Since the presence of glaciers is mainly controlled by winter snow and summer temperatures, a glacier will reflect changes in these climatic parameters. Large amounts of snow and low temperatures during the winter favour glacier growth, while low amounts of snow and/or high summer temperatures causes glacier retreat.

Growth or retreat is a reaction to a positive or negative mass balance. But, due to different reaction time, there may be a delay of several years between a measured positive mass balance and glacier growth. Short and steep outlet glaciers, like Briksdalsbreen or Bøyabreen, reacts relatively fast. Long, large and gentle sloping glaciers, like Tunsbergdalsbreen and Nigardsbreen, has slower reactions to changes in climatic conditions.

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).