Polar Urals Glaciers Indicate Modern and Last Millennium Climate Variations in the Russian Subarctic

Reliable, corroborated records of climate fluctuations before and since the industrial revolution are essential to the early detection of global climate change and its attribution to specific causes. We report a valuable and underutilized source of such information - six very small glaciers in the Polar Urals (FIG. 1, 2). Such small glaciers respond to climate changes on decadal time scales, directly relevant to human concerns. In addition to being valuable records in their own right, they provide an opportunity for comparison with other, completely independent, natural archives of climate variability. These glaciers, each of whose area is no more than 1 km2, so far survived the increased temperatures of the 20th century. They were discovered in the 1930's, intensively monitored from 1953-1981 and visited most recently in 1999-2000s (Troitsky, 1961, Voloshina, 1981, Tsvetkov, Tiuflin, 1981, Solomina et al., 2000, Nosenko et al.in press). The Holocene climate and treeline variations in the area were reconstructed using pollen (Surova et al., 1971, 1975) and tree-ring analysis (Shiyatov, 1981, 2000, 2003; Hantemirov, 2000).
The modern area of Polar Urals glaciers is 20-50% smaller than it was at the "Little Ice Age" maximum. The terminal moraines located below the modern glaciers bear witness to repeated glacier advances of approximately identical amplitude. Six major advances of the last millennium were identified by lichenometry. Using a combination of direct measurements and control points, we estimated the growth rate of Rhizocarpon geographicum as approximately 0.25 mm/year for the first hundred years (TABLE 1), which is close to (although a little slower than) to the growth rates of these lichens in Northern Sweden (0.29 mm/year) (Denton, Karlen, 1973) (see FIG.3). According to the preliminary growth curve, the age of the moraines is estimated as AD1880's (24-26 mm), AD1850's-1830's (38-44 mm), AD1800's (50-51 mm), AD1750's-1730's (63, 66 mm), AD1600 (?) (87 mm) and in the 13th century (?) (120 mm). These dates correspond to well-known Northern Hemisphere glacier advances (Grove, 1988), and most of them (with the exception of the oldest one) agree with a tree-ring temperature reconstruction from this region (Briffa et al., 1995). Being very small and having a short time of reaction to climatic changes, the Polar Urals glaciers seem to be a very convenient source of proxy data. In the long run their variations are in agreement with the regional expression of global climatic trends during the last millennium.

Table 1. Control points for Rhizocarpon geographicum growth curve in Polar Urals
Name of the site
Year of studies
Age of surface stabilization /exposion
Number of measured lichens
Maximum diameter, mm
Average of 5 maximum diameters, mm
Standard deviation, mm
Paipudina valley, 490 m asl., dump and entrance to the gallery
1940's-beginnig of 1950's.
Second dump at the same location
1940's-beginnig of 1950's.
Road leading to Khanmey, 240 m asl., open mines
until the beginning of 1950's
Nemur-Egan mine, cores
Kharbey village, molibdenum mine
until the beginning of 1950's
130 m asl., 37 km of Balanankov' road, quarry
beginning of 1980's
Anuchina glacier, ablation moraine
Obrucheva glacier, ablation moraine


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Voloshina, A. P. (1988). "Nekotoriye itogi issledovanii balansa massi lednikov Poliarnogo Urala. Some results the studies of the mass balance of the glacier of Polar Urals." Data of Glaciological Studies. Materialy Gliatsiologicheskikh Issledovanii. 61: 44-51.

IGAN Glacier. Photo by G. Nosenko
Fig. 3
Obrucheva Glacier. Photo by G. Nosenko

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