Evolution of the Norwegian plateau icefield Hardangerjøkulen since the Little Ice Age

Paul Weber, Clare Boston, Harold Lovell, Liss M. Andreassen

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The maximum Little Ice Age (LIA) glacier extent provides a significant baseline to assess long-term glacier change and to place currently observed rates of glacier recession in a broader temporal context. To that end, we examine the evolution of the plateau icefield Hardangerjøkulen since the LIA. Firstly, we reconstruct Hardangerjøkulen’s maximum LIA extent (~AD 1750) and subsequent recession based on the glacial landform record and aided by historical map interpretation. Ice-marginal moraines, glacial drift limits, trimlines, and identifiable erosion and weathering boundaries provide evidence of a LIA icefield with an area of 110 km2. Existing LIA model simulations of Hardangerjøkulen are not yet fully able to reproduce our reconstructed extent. Secondly, we compile a set of remotely-sensed icefield outlines from successive time points in the 20th and 21st century to calculate icefield area and length change since the LIA. This reveals a substantial reduction in icefield size, with a total area loss of 41 km2 (37 %; 2 % 10a -1) by 2010, and a cumulative frontal retreat averaging 1.3 km (29 %; 5 m a -1) by 2013. Icefield recession has been greatest since the end of the 20th century, when rates of areal shrinkage increased to 6.5-10 % 10a -1 in 1995-2010, and the rate of average terminus retreat accelerated to 17 m a -1 in 2003-2010. Thirdly, we present a relative dating approach, based on the known age of the different icefield outlines, that allows bracketing ages to be assigned to all ice-marginal landforms between any two outlines. This approach shows that episodes of moraine formation vary temporally between individual outlet glaciers of Hardangerjøkulen, suggesting that the moraine record of a single outlet glacier alone may not be sufficient to derive an icefield-wide picture of past ice advances, and thereby climate fluctuations.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalThe Holocene
Early online date1 Aug 2019
Publication statusEarly online - 1 Aug 2019


  • glacier change
  • glacier reconstruction
  • Hardangerjøkulen
  • Little Ice Age
  • Norway
  • plateau icefield


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