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Durham University

Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Publication details

Evans, D.J.A., Gudmundsson, S., Vautrey, J.L., Fernyough, K. & Southworth, W.G. Testing lichenometric techniques in the production of a new growth-rate (curve) for the Breidamerkurjokull foreland, Iceland, and the analysis of potential climatic drivers of glacier recession. Geografiska Annaler, Series A, Physical Geography. 2019;101:225-248.

Author(s) from Durham


Independent dating of closely-spaced moraines on the west Breiðamerkurjökull foreland is used to test the accuracy of the size frequency (SF) and largest lichen (5LL) lichenometric dating techniques. The 5LL technique derived the most accurate ages for three undated moraines within the dated sequence but growth rates and lag times produced by the two methods (5LL = 0.71 mm yr-1 and 11 years; SF = 0.64 mm yr-1 and 7 years) were not significantly different. We therefore reject previous conclusions that any one technique is demonstrably inferior to the other, at least for dating glacial landforms created over the last 130 years in SE Iceland. Comparisons of climate trends and recession rates indicate that air temperature anomalies, particularly those of the summer, are the strongest driver of glacier retreat. No clear relationship between NAO trends and glacier retreat were identified, although a positive and/or rising trend in NAO is associated with the slowing of ice retreat overall, and the marked readvances of the mid-1950s, mid-1970s and mid-1990s are all coincident with positive and/or rising NAO 5yr moving averages. Summer and annual temperature trends, not the NAO, clearly show that recent accelerated global warming is driving the marked recession of the period 1995-2015. Over the last 100 years temperature has been the major driver of glacier terminus oscillations at west Breiðamerkurjökull but it is clear that extreme decreases in winter precipitation (i.e. 1960-73) have the potential to increase retreat rates significantly even during times of below average annual temperatures.

Department of Geography