Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Snowcover update & ice retreat

Quelccaya Ice Cap currently remains largely blanketed by snowcover, excepting the very lowest ablation zone (e.g., Qori Kalis outlet glacier). The GIF above contains only 2 images; the snowy scene without red annotation was acquired last week (10 May 2018). Contrast 2018 snowcover on the glacier with that 2 years earlier, at the end of March 2016.

These images show a portion of the ice cap's western margin. We have visited this area at least annually since 2003, witnessing continuous retreat of the margin and changes in all of these proglacial lakes.

The red ellipses on the 2016 image highlight two areas where margin retreat is clearly evident. Our GPS measurements up through 2017 at the lower section indicate a retreat rate of 10-15 m/year. At the small red circle by the larger lake, the area of bedrock near the circle has expanded, and only a small portion of the glacier still extends into the lake (contrast 2013). Throughout our years of fieldwork in the area we have observed ice calving into this lake, which began forming in ~1985 (Thompson et al., 2013). Within the next year or two the glacier will no longer reach the lake.

One consequence of Quelccaya margin retreat and thinning is loss of suitable nest sites for the "Andean Glacier Bird" (White-winged Diuca-Finch, Idiopsar speculifer; formerly Diuca speculifera). Until the mid-2000s the area near the lower ellipse supported a relatively high density of nests, built directly on the ice (Hardy and Hardy, 2008 and here). As ice at this margin thinned and became less steep, the area was abandoned for nesting. More recently, the area near the small circle has been used for nesting (e.g., 2014 oblique photo of margin at the lake), but as the ice becomes thinner the birds will need to move up in elevation to find suitable, steep ice slopes. Furthermore, the Glacier Bird is not the only bird species impacted by ice recession; a new manuscript detailing this is currently in review (and available upon request). 

Ref:  Thompson, L.G., E. Mosley-Thompson, M.E. Davis, V.S. Zagorodnov, I.M. Howat, V.N. Mikhalenko, and P.-N. Lin. 2013. Annually resolved ice core records of tropical climate variability over the past ~1800 years. Science, vol. 340, 945-950. 10.1126/science.1234210