Reconstruction and paleoclimatic significance of late Quaternary glaciers in the Tararua Range, North Island, New Zealand

Martin S. Brook (Lead / Corresponding author), Martin P. Kirkbride

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    Reconstructed mountain glaciers are routinely used as a proxy for climate in the search for evidence of interhemispheric climate fluctuations during the Quaternary. In New Zealand, valley glaciers at the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) extended from an ice sheet centred on New Zealand's Southern Alps to below present-day sea level. In contrast, evidence of LGM glacial activity on the North Island is rare. Here, a glacioclimatic reconstruction is presented of two former glaciers in the Tararua Range (41°S) in the southern North Island. At Mt. Aston, an isolated cirque basin contains landform evidence of a marginal niche glacier. At Park Valley, the lateral moraine of a larger cirque glacier has yielded published cosmogenic isotope ages. The paleoglacier reconstruction shows that paleoequilibrium line altitudes increased northwards across New Zealand during the local LGM. Hence, at this latitude only topography >1200 m above present day sea-level was of sufficient elevation to allow small glaciers to form. The Mt Aston glacier covered only 0.18 km2 with an equilibrium line altitude (ELA) of c. 1287 m above present sea level. A mean ELA glacier thickness of c. 25 m gives a basal shear stress at the ELA of c. 100 kPa-1, with a mean summer (December, January, February, DJF) temperature at the ELA of no lower than 5.5 °C below present, below which precipitation would have been insufficient to support the reconstructed glacier. Implied LGM paleo-temperatures from both the ELA reconstruction and the glaciological reconstruction broadly accord with other paleo-temperature proxies from the North Island. Park Valley glacier covered c. 0.45 km2 with an ELA of c. 1270 m and a mean ELA basal shear stress of 65 kPa. Its balance discharge was 9 × greater than at Mt Aston. It appears to have been glaciologically viable across a wide range of paleotemperatures: thus, the more marginal glacier is a more useful paleoclimatic indicator because it places a maximum limit on LGM temperature depression, which the larger glacier does not. ELAs of both glaciers closely approximate the regional LGM ELA trend surface. The paleo-glacier reconstructions imply that together with temperature driving LGM paleo-ELA depression, changes in south-westerly airflow over New Zealand, bringing moisture-laden but cool air, maximized snowfall and minimised winter melt. The corollary is that patterns of Quaternary glacier fluctuations may be interpreted as responses, at least in-part, to precipitation-driven changes, and secondly, North Island glaciation was probably more extensive than previously assumed.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)53-66
    Number of pages14
    JournalQuaternary International
    Issue numberPart A
    Early online date20 Oct 2017
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2018


    • Glacier reconstruction
    • New Zealand
    • Niche glaciation
    • Southern mid-latitudes
    • Tararua range

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Earth-Surface Processes


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