Kamchatka: glaciers and climate variations in the last few centuries

in cooperation with G.Wiles, T.Shiraiwa, G.Jacoby, and R. D´Arrigo


The Kamchatka Penisula (56°N 160°E) is 1600 km long, almost 500 km wide at its widest and supports 29 active and 300 extinct volcanoes. Most glaciers of Kamchatka (446 glaciers covering about 900 km2) are located in Sredinny and Eastern Ridges, oriented submeridionally. ELA´s range from 700 m (Kronotsky peninsula) to 2800 m (Kliuchevskoy volcano), glaciers occupy a wide zone from 300 to 4500 m asl. Historical descriptions of glaciers in Kamchatka only go back to the early 20th century and they are extremely sparse. In order to extend the information on glacier variations in the past moraines have been dated using tree-rings, lichenometry, tephrochronology and 14C methods (Solomina et al., 1995, Solomina 1999, Solomina and Calkin, 2003) (FIG. 1). Ice core records of Ushkovsky volcano (Shiraiwa et al., 2001) and tree-ring temperature sensitive tree ring chronologies provide the climatic background of these advances.

Glacier fluctuations

Most prominent glacier advances in Kamchatka occurred in the second half of 19th century. Both high precipitation and cold summers contributed to these advances. Moraines deposited in 1900s-1930s and in 1970s are located inside theses complexes and mark less prominent advances or periods of front stabilization, which is in agreement with the rising temperature trend. The increasing precipitation were not able to counterbalance the mass loss due to the ablation. Older moraines (1690s-1700s) and possibly ca AD 1500 are rare in Kamchatka because of the later major advances. The first one coincides with the summer temperature decrease recorded by ring width chronology, the AD1500 advance is too old to be compared with the ring width records. Moraines older than 15th century are absent in Kamchatka and extremely rare in Alaska . The reason might be the generally warmer climate (summers) in the area in 11th-14th centuries, when the glaciers were smaller than in 15th-19th centuries

The glacier advances of the last 400-500 years in Kamchatka are close in time to those of Alaska (Wiles et al., 2004) and broadly coincide with cold summers reconstructed by tree-ring analyses (FIG. 2).

Tree-ring studies

Several larch, spruce and birch chronologies are available in Kamchatka (Table 1). All chronologies are spring-summer temperature sensitive. The regional larch ring-width chronology (KAML) includes 144 cores and covers the period AD 2003-1632 (series intercorrelation is 0.650, average mean sensitivity is 0.321) (FIG.3). The chronology includes 22 missing rings in 1778, 1857, 1864, 1865, 1867, 1877, 1926, 1927, 1947. The KAML regional chronology compares well with the BY chronology used by Gostev et al. (1996) for May-June temperature reconstruction both year to year and on decadal timescales for the entire record (FIG. 3).

Table 1. Correlation coefficient of tree ring chronologies and temperature in Kamchatka

The year-by-year comparison of the minima of Melt Feature Index from Ushkovsky volcano (Shiraiwa et al., 1999, 2001) and those of larch ring width chronology are useful for the checking of the dating accuracy of the ice core. Maxima are less informative for this purpose. In case of Ushkovsky the 1-3 years accuracy is confirmed for the period at least since 1750. Several known volcanic eruptions (e.g. in 1641, 1695, 1810, 1816, 1831) are marked by narrow rings in KAML chronology in Kamchatka and in Wrangell Mountains in Alaska (Davi et al., 2002).

Since 1870s-1880s the decadal variations of annual accumulation and larch ring width in Kamchatka tend to be opposite (FIG. 4). The pattern is confirmed by the modern fluctuations of annual precipitation and summer temperature. The periods of high accumulation and low summer temperature favorable for the glaciers are identified by these proxies in 1910s-1920s, 1940s-1950s and 1960s-1970s. The instrumental records of temperature and precipitation in 20th century as well as reconstructions of mass balance of three glaciers confirm this pattern. The advances of glaciers in 1940s-1950s and 1970s are instrumentally recorded, those of the beginning of the century are supported by the dated moraines both in the maritime and continental parts of Kamchatka .


Davi, N. K., Jacoby, G.C., Wiles, G.C. (2003). Boreal temperature variability inferred from maximum latewood density and tree-ring width data, Wrangell Mountain region, Alaska . Quaternary Research 60: 252-262.
D'Arrigo, R.D., Mashig, D., Frank, D., Jacoby, G., and Wilson , R., (2004). Reconstructed warm season temperatures for Nome , Seward Peninsula , Alaska since AD 1389: Geophysical Research Letters 31, L09202, doi:10.1029/2004GL019756.
Gostev, M., Wiles, G., D'Arrigo, R., Jacoby, G., Khomentovsky, P. (1996). Early summer temperature since 1670 A.D. for Central Kamchatka reconstructed based on a Siberian larch tree-ring width chronology. Can.J.For.Res. 26: 2048-2052.
Shiraiwa, T., Nishio, F, Kameda, T., Takahashi, A, Toyama , Y., Muraviev, Ya, Ovsyannikov, A. (1999). Ice core drilling at Ushkovsky ice cap, Kamchatka , Russia . Seppyo 61(1): 25-40.
Shiraiwa, T., Muravyev, Y.D., Kameda, T., Nishio, F., Toyama , Y., Takahashi, A., Ovsyannikov, A.A., Salamatin, A.N. and Yamagata, K. (2001). Characteristics of a crater glacier at Ushkovsky volcano as revealed by the physical properties of ice cores and borehole thermometry. J. Glaciology 47(158): 423-432.
Solomina, O., Calkin, P. (2003). Lichenometry as Applied to Moraines in Alaska , USA , and Kamchatka , Russia . Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research 35(2): 129-143.
Solomina, O. N., Muraviev, Ya.D., Braeuning, A., Shiraiwa, T., Shiyatov, S.G. (2000). Tree-rings in Central Kamchatka in Comparison with Climate Variations and Ice Core Data. Proceedings of the International Conference on Climate Change and Variability, Tokyo, Japan. Solomina, O. N., Muravyev, Ya.D., Bazanova, L.I. (1995). Little Ice Age Glaciers in Kamchatka . Annals of Glaciology 21: 240-244.
Wiles, G., D´Arrigo, R., Jacoby, G. (1998). Gulf of Alaska atmosphere-ocean variability over recent centuries inferred from coastal tree-ring records. Climatic change 38: 289-306.
Wiles, G., D´Arrigo, R., Villalba, R., Calkin, P., Barclay, D.J. (2004). Century-scale solar variability and Alaskan temperature change over the past millennium. Geophysical Research Letters 31(L15203)

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