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Rapid thinning of lake-calving Yakutat Glacier and the collapse of the Yakutat Icefield, southeast Alaska, USA

  • Barbara L. Trüssel (a1) (a2), Roman J. Motyka (a1), Martin Truffer (a1) (a3) and Christopher F. Larsen (a1)

Both lake-calving Yakutat Glacier (337 km2), Alaska, USA, and its parent icefield (810 km2) are experiencing strong thinning, and under current climate conditions will eventually disappear. Comparison of digital elevation models shows that Yakutat Glacier thinned at area-averaged rates of 4.76 ± 0.06 m w.e.a−1 (2000–07) and 3.66 ± 0.03 m w.e.a−1 (2007–10). Simultaneously, adjacent Yakutat Icefield land-terminating glaciers thinned at lower but still substantial rates (3.79 and 2.94 m w.e.a−1 respectively for the same time periods), indicating lake-calving dynamics helps drive increased mass loss. Yakutat Glacier terminates into Harlequin Lake and for over a decade sustained a ∼3 km long floating tongue, which started to disintegrate into large tabular icebergs in 2010. Such floating tongues are rarely seen on temperate tidewater glaciers. We hypothesize that this difference is likely due to the lack of submarine melting in the case of lake-calving glaciers. Floating-tongue ice losses were evaluated in terms of overall mass balance and contribution to sea-level rise. The post-Little Ice Age collapse of Yakutat Icefield was driven in part by tidewater calving retreats of adjacent glaciers, the lake-calving retreat of Yakutat Glacier, a warming climate and by the positive feedback mechanisms through surface lowering.

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