GeoLog

Cryospheric Sciences

Imaggeo on Mondays: Foehn clouds

This week’s post is brought to you by Stefan Winkler, a Senior Lecturer in Quaternary Geology & Palaeoclimatology, who explains how the mountain tops of the Southern Alps become decorated by beautiful blanket-like cloud formations.

The Sothern Alps of New Zealand are a geoscientifically dynamic environment in all aspects. They are arguably one of the youngest high mountain ranges in the world formed at the plate tectonic boundary between the Australian and the Pacific Plate. Their dominating tectonic structure, the Alpine Fault running some 600 km mainly parallel to the mountain ranges of New Zealand’s South Island, caused not only an impressive horizontal displacement of rock formations, but also an overall vertical uplift of estimated c. 20 km during the past 10 – 15 Million years. Aoraki/Mt.Cook visible in the left background on the image with its height of ‘only’ 3724 m a.s.l. is the highest peak of the mountain range that is currently uplifted by 4 – 5 mm per year. Together with reconstructed uplift rates of up to 10 mm per year for the centre of the Southern Alps this indication how efficient and important weathering and erosion processes are in this region.

Foehn clouds over Aoraki/Mt.Cook. Credit: Stefan Winkler (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Foehn clouds over Aoraki/Mt.Cook. Credit: Stefan Winkler (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

The ranges of the Southern Alps rise just 10 – 15 km inland the West Coast of the South Island as a wall parallel to the coast line up to 3,000 metres and more. They are a major topographic obstacle for the predominantly westerly airflow and provide a classic example of how ‘föhn’ winds are generated along mountain ranges perpendicular to an air flow. Föhn winds are dry and warm, forming on the downside of a mountain range. On the western slopes of the Southern Alps, orographic precipitation amounts to impressive 5,000 mm at the base and 10,000 mm + on in the high-lying accumulation areas of the mountain glaciers concentrating around the Main Divide. At and east of the Main Divide this locally named ‘Nor’wester’ creates impressive foehn clouds (altocumulus lenticularis, hogback clouds, seen in this week’s Imaggeo on Mondays image) that form in waves parallel to the Main Divide and are often streamlined by the high wind speed. The frequent occurrence of strong and warm Nor’westers contributes to the sharp decline of precipitation immediately east of the Main Divide.

The foreground of the image displays another aspect of this dynamic environment: the current wastage and retreat of glaciers in New Zealand. The section of the proglacial lake with its sediment-laden greyish water colour on the image would still have been covered by the debris-covered lower glacier tongue of Mueller Glacier only 15 years ago. Now, the terminus has retread to a position to the left outside the image. The lake is bounded by the glacier’s lateral moraine – unconsolidated accumulations of rock and soil debris resulting from weathering of the rock walks surrounding a glacire – that are more than 120 m high from base to top (or crest, to give it its technical name) and were last overtopped during the so-called ‘Little Ice Age’ when the glacier surface reached higher than its crest. At this glacier, the maximum of this Little Ice Age has been dated to 1720/30, but as late as during the late 20th century it remained close to its frontal maximum position and had only shrunk vertically. Today the lateral moraines are heavily reworked and eroded by paraglacial processes following the latest vertical and horizontal ice retreat. In some places on Mueller Glacier’s foreland the crest of lateral moraines retreat up to 1 m per year back and give again evidence of a very dynamic geo-ecosystem.

By Stefan Winkler, Senior Lecturer in Quaternary Geology and Palaeoclimatology at the Univeristy of Canterbury.

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.

Imaggeo on Mondays: Mirror Image

Imaggeo on Mondays: Mirror Image

This week’s Imaggeo on Mondays image is brought to you by Fabien Darrouzet, who visited the icy landscapes of Svalbard back in 2012. Whilst the aim of his trip was not to better understand the geology of the landscapes, his eyes were very much focused on goings on up, up in the sky, it didn’t stop him taking this still of the snow covered peaks.

This picture was taken in Svalbard (78° lat.) in June 2012. I was there for one week in order to observe the transit of the planet Venus in front of the Sun. I came here because at this time of the year, the Sun never sets, (midnight Sun), so it was possible to see Venus during most of the transit (for over six and a half hours!), and not only during its last minutes, as was the case for most parts of Europe.

During the day after the transit, I took a boat trip inside the fjords around Longyearbyen in order to discover the island and its local wildlife; I was interested in catching a glimpse of the elusive polar bears and hope to see seals too. We sailed in the Isfjorden, and in particular close to the southern border of a territory of Svalbard named Oscar II Land, where I took this picture from the deck of the boat. This area, and indeed all of Svalbard, is covered by snow most of the time, and just a few plants can germinate during July-August, when the average temperature is 5°C.

Svalbard is dominated by glaciers (60% of all the surface), which are important indicators of global warming and can reveal possible answers as to what the climate was like up to several hundred thousand years ago. The glaciers are studied and analysed by scientists in order to better observe and understand the consequences of the global warming on Earth.

 

By Fabien Darrouzet, Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.

Imaggeo on Mondays: Drumlins Clew Bay

Imaggeo on Mondays: Drumlins Clew Bay

During ice ages landscapes are sculpted by the power of advancing glaciers. From rock scratches, to changing mountains and the formation of corries, cirques and aretes, through to the formation of valleys and fjords, the effects of past glaciations are evident across the northern hemisphere landscape.

Perhaps not so familiar, drumlin fields are also vestiges of the erosive power of ancient ice sheets. Glacial deposits tend to be angular and poorly sorted, meaning they come in lots of different sizes and shapes. The extreme of this are glacial erratics. Drumlins are are elongated hills made up of glacial deposits and they represent bedforms produced below rapidly moving ice. Our Imaggeo on Monday’s image this week is of Clew Bay in western Ireland and shows the streamlining of drumlins into an extensive drumlin field of glacial sediment. The drumlins here formed during the rapid thinning of the fast moving central parts of the western sector of the British-Irish Ice Sheet, in a process known as deglacial downdraw – probably between 18,000 and 16,000 years ago. The ice was streaming through bays in western Ireland both during and at the end of the Last Glacial Maximum (also known as LGM). This was the time in which the ice sheets covered most of northern America, Europe and Asia. In Clew Bay the ice was a minimum of 800m thick and flowing out into a series of tidewater glaciers situated along the length of Ireland’s western shelf.

By Prof. Peter Coxon, Head of Geography, School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin & Laura Roberts

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under

Imaggeo on Mondays: Retreating Glacier

Credit: Przemyslaw Wachniew (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Credit: Przemyslaw Wachniew (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

The Svalbard archipelago is considered to be one of the best places to study the geological history of the Earth because its rocks represent every geological period. This image shows a view from the peak of Fugleberget (569 m a. s. l.; 77º 00’ N, 15º 30’ E) on the south-western coast of the island of Spitsbergen. Glaciation of this geologically diverse area gave rise to a variety of geomorphic features. The most prominent of them, depicted in the picture, is the Hornsund Fjord that cuts through metamorphic and sedimentary rocks ranging from the Proterozoic (up to 2.5 billion years old!) to the Cretaceous Age (older than 66 million years). A spectacular example of glacial erosion can be seen on both sides of the fjord in the cliffs formed of Paleozoic carbonate rocks. Nowadays, this landscape is changing because glaciers are retreating in response to the rapid warming of the Arctic. Patterns of glacial retreat can be recognized at the margin of the Hans Glacier, which descends to the fjord below. Floating parts of the glacier are unstable as they readily break up, form crevasses, and eventually calve in to the fjord, as recorded in the photograph. The 1.5 km long calving front is retreating faster than the grounded parts of the glacier. As glaciers move, they can leave behind large amounts of dirt and rocks, known as moraines. Reduction in the thickness of Hans Glacier, is reflected by the height of the lateral moraine, which can be seen above the ice edge as an elongated ridge with an irregular surface. Retreating glaciers expose new areas of land and water, which affects fluxes of energy and matter in the arctic environment.

By Przemyslaw Wachniew, AGH University of Science and Technology in Kraków .

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.

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