Little Ice Age glacier extension and retreat in Spitsbergen Island (High Arctic, Svalbard Archipelago)

Raúl Martín-Moreno, Fernando Allende-Álvarez


The influence of the Little Ice Age on the glaciers of Spitsbergen has been well documented by many investigations since long time. This paper studies, measures and presents new data on the Little Ice Age maximum glacier extension and retreat by aerial photo interpretation and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) tools use. It also elaborates cartography where all the results are expressed in greater detail. During the LIA maximum the Island of Spitsbergen was covered with a 7.34% more of ice than today. After the Little Ice Age, the total glacier area loss was 13.84%, which means a total of 2769.8 Km2 over the 20,008.7 Km2 of the total glaciated in the current context. The analysis of the maximum Little Ice Age glacier extension in the major drainage basins brings important differences among them; hardly 100 years ago some basin drainage increased the glacier area more than 24% (in the western and central region of Spitsbergen), while others less than 5% (in the northeast region of the Island). The greatest retreats are found in the tidewater glaciers that extend into the sea, which we explain due to different factors: their glacier front beds are found below the sea level, the intense ablation of the calving process, the fact that their tidewater fronts are thin and temperate (which make them more dynamic and very sensitive to climate fluctuations), and that the advances of these glaciers may correspond with surges, which means that the rapid retreats are motivated by the post-surging phases as well. The conclusions of the present research point out a very important ice loss in the whole Island since the Little Ice Age, and the high vulnerability of this Arctic Archipelago to global warming.


glacier retreat; aerial photo interpretation; GIS; Little Ice Age; Spitsbergen

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Copyright (c) 2016 Raúl Martín-Moreno, Fernando Allende-Álvarez

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