Glaciers and climate in northern Sweden during the 19th and 20th century

University dissertation from Stockholm : Institutionen för naturgeografi och kvartärgeologi

Abstract: Our understanding of the climate of northern Sweden during the late Holocene is largely dependent on proxy-data series. These datasets remain spatially and temporally sparse and instrumental series are rare prior to the mid 19th century. Nevertheless, the glaciology and paleo-glaciology of the region has a strong potential significance for the exploration of climate change scenarios, past and future. The aim of this thesis is to investigate the 19th and 20th century climate in the northern Swedish mountain range. This provides a good opportunity to analyse the natural variability of the climate before the onset of the industrial epoch. Developing a temporal understanding of fluctuations in glacier front positions and glacier mass balance that is linked to a better understanding of their interaction and relative significance to climate is fundamental in the assessment of past climate.I have chosen to investigate previously unexplored temperature data from northern Sweden from between 1802 and 1860 and combined it with a temperature series from a synoptic station in Haparanda, which began operation in 1859, in order to create a reliable long temperature series for the period 1802 to 2002. I have also investigated two different glaciers, Pårteglaciären and Salajekna, which are located in different climatic environments. These glaciers have, from a Swedish perspective, long observational records. Furthermore, I have investigated a recurring jökulhlaup at the glacier Sälkaglaciären in order to analyse glacier-climate relationships with respect to the jökulhlaups. A number of datasets are presented, including: glacier frontal changes, in situ and photogrammetric mass balance data, in situ and satellite radar interferometry measurements of surface velocity, radar measurements, ice volume data and a temperature series. All these datasets are analysed in order to investigate the response of the glaciers to climatic stimuli, to attribute specific behaviour to particular climates and to analyse the 19th and 20th century glacier/climate relationships in northern Sweden.The 19th century was characterized by cold conditions in northern Sweden, particularly in winter. Significant changes in the amplitude of the annual temperature cycle are evident. Through the 19th century there is a marked decreasing trend in the amplitude of the data, suggesting a change towards a prevalence of maritime (westerly) air masses, something which has characterised the 20th century. The investigations on Salajekna support the conclusion that the major part of the 19th century was cold and dry. The 19th century advance of Salajekna was probably caused by colder climate in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, coupled with a weakening of the westerly airflow. The investigations on Pårteglaciären show that the glacier has a response time of ~200 years. It also suggests that there was a relatively high frequency of easterly winds providing the glacier with winter precipitation during the 19th century.Glaciers have very different response times and are sensitive to different climatic parameters. Glaciers in rather continental areas of the Subarctic and Arctic can have very long response times because of mass balance considerations and not primarily the glacier dynamics. This is of vital importance for analyzing Arctic and Subarctic glacier behaviour in a global change perspective. It is far from evident that the behaviour of the glacier fronts today reflects the present climate.

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