Controls on the altitude of Scandinavian cirques: what do they tell us about palaeoclimate?  

Rachel P. Oien, Iestyn D. Barr, Matteo Spagnolo, Robert G. Bingham, Brice R. Rea, John Jansen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Cirques are glacially eroded, bowl-shaped depressions, characterised by steep headwalls and flat or overdeepened floors. Given their association with past glaciers, cirques are sometimes used as proxies for palaeoclimate. However, cirques are shaped over multiple glacial cycles, and their usefulness as palaeoclimate indicators therefore remains open to question. In this paper, we map 3984 glacier-free cirques across the Scandinavian Peninsula and analyse variations in cirque floor altitude (CFA). We explore the relationships between CFAs and cirque aspect, latitude, longitude, and distance to the coast. We test the validity of using CFAs as indicators of palaeoclimate through comparison with the equilibrium-line altitudes (ELAs) of 513 modern cirque glaciers. Results indicate that both CFAs and modern cirque-glacier ELAs decrease with latitude and vary with aspect, being generally lowest on east-facing slopes. However, the clearest and strongest trend in both CFAs and modern cirque glacier ELAs is an increase in elevation with distance from the modern coast (i.e., distance ‘inland’). This likely indicates that similar climatic gradients, particularly an inland reduction in precipitation, acted to regulate former sites of glacier initiation (reflected by CFAs) and modern glacier ELAs. This would imply that CFAs are a useful proxy for palaeoclimate. However, we note that both CFAs and modern ELAs reflect the general topography of this region (with increasing elevations moving inland), and the glacial history of the area (indirectly linked to palaeoclimate) may have played a role in regulating where cirques have formed. For these reasons, we suggest that palaeoclimatic interpretations derived from CFAs should be treated with caution.
Original languageEnglish
Article number111062
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
Early online date21 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2022


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