Numerical Modeling of Rocky Mountain Paleoglaciers – Insights into the Climate of the Last Glacial Maximum and the Subsequent Deglaciation
Abstract:Numerical modeling of paleoglaciers can yield information on the climatic conditions necessary to sustain those glaciers. In this study we apply a coupled 2-d mass/energy balance and flow model (Plummer and Phillips, 2003) to reconstruct local last glacial maximum (LLGM) glaciers and paleoclimate in ten study areas along the crest of the U.S. Rocky Mountains between 33°N and 49°N. In some of the areas, where timing of post-LLGM ice recession is constrained by surface exposure ages on either polished bedrock upvalley from the LLGM moraines or post-LLGM recessional moraines, we use the model to assess magnitudes and rates of climate change during deglaciation.
The modeling reveals a complex pattern of LLGM climate. The magnitude of LLGM-to-modern climate change (temperature and/or precipitation change) was greater in both the northern (Montana) Rocky Mountains and southern (New Mexico) Rocky Mountains than in the middle (Wyoming and Colorado) Rocky Mountains. We use temperature depression estimates from global and regional climate models to infer LLGM precipitation from our glacier model results. Our results suggest a reduction of precipitation coupled with strongly depressed temperatures in the north, contrasted with strongly enhanced precipitation and much more modest temperature depression in the south. The middle Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming appear to have experienced a reduction in precipitation at the LLGM without the strong temperature depression of the northern Rocky Mountains.
Preliminary work on modeling of deglaciation in the Sangre de Cristo Range in southern Colorado suggests that approximately half of the LLGM-to-modern climate change took place during the initial ~2400 years of deglaciation. If increasing temperature and changing solar insolation were the sole drivers of this initial deglaciation, then temperature would need to have risen by slightly more than 1°C/ky through this interval to account for the observed rate of ice recession.