Glacial geomorphology of the central South Island, New Zealand

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Barrell, D.J.A.; Andersen, B.G.; Denton, G.H. 2011 Glacial geomorphology of the central South Island, New Zealand. Lower Hutt: GNS Science. GNS Science monograph 27 81 p. + map (5 sheets) + legend (1 sheet)

Abstract: The central part of the South Island of New Zealand contains a spectacular array of landforms produced by the action of glaciers, spanning from deep in prehistoric time through to the present day. Glaciers are expressions of atmospheric climatic conditions, and their advances and retreats, as recorded by distinctive landforms, provide a measure of past climate changes. As New Zealand is one of the few landmasses in the Southern Hemisphere where glaciers have had a persistent presence, its glacier record is an important piece of information for enquiry into the natural behaviour of Earth’s climate system. The central South Island has modern glaciers whose historic behaviour provides an analogue for the interpretation of the prehistoric record. In addition, the prehistoric record provides context to the widespread retreat of Southern Alps glaciers within the last hundred years or so, and questions about future climate change. The central South Island glacial geomorphologic record is documented on a five-sheet, 1:100,000-scale, geomorphology map enclosed in this monograph. Spanning from the west coast to the east coast and including the highest portions of the Southern Alps, the map shows the distributions of glaciers, glacial moraines, outwash plains, and a range of other landforms. The landforms are placed in broad age groups, emphasizing climatic events. Greatest emphasis is placed on the landforms of the Late Otira Glaciation, within the period between about 45,000 and 14,500 years ago, as well as younger landforms of late-glacial age (about 14,500 to 11,700 years ago) and the succeeding Holocene epoch, up to the present day. The map provides a foundation for detailed research on the Quaternary climatic record of New Zealand. An important message from the historic record of modern glacier fluctuations, and the landforms produced, is that considerable variation exists from valley to valley. The individual character of each glacier system may be attributed to the topographic setting and geometry of the glacier. These factors determine how sensitive and responsive a glacier is to small shifts in climate, as well as whether any glacier landforms produced are likely to survive erosion by floodwaters or burial by sediment. An understanding of the wider context of a glacier in its local and regional landscape greatly aids the interpretation of its prehistoric record of behaviour imprinted in landforms. (auth)

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