Donne Glacier Retreat New Zealand

Donne Glacier descends the spectacular east face of Mount Tutoka in southwest New Zealand. This glacier has been undergoing rapid retreat this decade creating a new alpine lake. The National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA) conducts an annual survey of the snowline of New Zealand glaciers. In order to thrive a glacier must have at 50-70% of its area snowcovered at the end of the summer melt season. For NZ glacier NIWA has noted 67% as the key to equilibrium conditions. If then snowline is above normal the glacier will lose mass, if the snowline is lower than normal the glacier will gain mass. Since 2000 the snowline has been above normal in nine of the ten years, only in 2005 was the snowline slightly lower than normal (NIWA, 2010). In 2009 the snowline was the highest of any of the years The result of a decade of high snowline’s is glacier mass loss and retreat. Below is a sequence of images from 2000, 2003, 2006 and 2009 of Donne Glacier the first and last images are from NIWA and the middle two are Google Earth images.
In 2000 the glacier reaches almost all the way across the newly forming unnamed lake. By 2003 the large debris covered section has detached and the lake has doubled in size. In 2006 the faint orange line indicates the 2003 terminus position. The retreat of 100 meters has led to further lake expansion. In the 2009 images the glacier is still ending in the expanding lake, and is still actively flowing. The number of crevasses and the snowcover existing even in poor snow years such as 2003, 2006 and 2009 indicate the glacier still has a persistent accumulation zone. The glacier begins near 2200 meters and descends to about 1300 meters in 2 kilometers. A persistent accumulation zone is key to survival. The retreat and formation of new alpine lakes is also occurring at two nearby glaciers that NIWA observes. Gunn Glacier (below) and Park Pass Glacier (above), in the Google Earth images. Both glaciers end in lakes still occupied by icebergs that used to be part the terminus of the glacier. The icebergs did not calve off so much as representing disintegration of the terminus. The tongue visible on Park Pass Glacier in the middle of the lake is now gone.


3 thoughts on “Donne Glacier Retreat New Zealand

  1. Hi Mauri
    I have been discussing glacier retreat with a “denier” recently. He has latched onto the idea that precipitation and temperature both affect the mass balance and therefore we can’t assume that glacial retreat is a result of temperature increase. The context is New Zealand and it follows on from the idea that NIWA have faked the temperature records for the past 150 years to show an unrealistic increase.

    This post is very interesting as I hadn’t thought much about the fiordland glaciers. Do you happen to have any record of precipitation over the period in question. I would have thought the Tutoko (yes “Tutoko”) area is subject to greater precip than normal being west facing and therefore we might have seen some advancing here as has been seen at Fox and Franz Josef.

    If you have any more info that would be helpful.


  2. Thanks for that – you are quite right, why would they…it could just be too inconvenient!

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