Abstract – 2012: Latest Pleistocene and Holocene Glacier Fluctuations on Mount Baker, Washington


2012: Latest Pleistocene and Holocene Glacier Fluctuations on Mount Baker, Washington

Gerald Osborn, Brian Menounos, Chamone Ryane, Jon Riedel, John J. Clague, Johannes Koch, Douglas Clark, Kevin Scott, and P. Thompson Davis

Glaciers on stratovolcanoes of the Pacific Northwest of North America offer opportunities for dating late Pleistocene and Holocene glacier advances because tephra and fossil wood are common in lateral moraines and in glacier forefields. We capitalize on this opportunity by examining the Holocene glacial record at Mount Baker, an active stratovolcano in northwest Washington. Earlier workers concluded that glaciers on Mount Baker during the early Holocene were more extensive than during the Little Ice Age and hypothesized that the explanation lay in unusual climatic or hypsometric effects peculiar to large volcanoes. We show that the main argument for an early Holocene glacier advance on Mount Baker, namely the absence of ca 10,000-year-old tephra on part of the south flank of the mountain, is incorrect. Moreover, a lake-sediment core indicates that a small cirque moraine previously thought be of early Holocene age is also likely older than the tephra and consequently of late Pleistocene age.
Lateral and end moraines and wood mats ca 2 km downvalley of the present snout of Deming Glacier indicate that an advance during the Younger Dryas interval was little more extensive than the climactic Little Ice Age advance. Tephra and wood between tills in the left lateral moraine of Easton Glacier suggest that ice on Mount Baker was restricted in the early Holocene and that Neoglaciation began ca 6 ka. A series of progressively more extensive Neoglacial advances, dated to about 2.2, 1.6, 0.9, and 0.4 ka, are recorded by stacked tills in the right lateral moraine of Deming Glacier. Intervening retreats were long enough to allow establishment of forests on the moraine. Wood mats in moraines of Coleman and Easton glaciers indicate that Little Ice Age expansion began before 0.7 ka and was followed by retreat and a readvance ca 0.5 ka. Tree-ring and lichen data indicate glaciers on the south side of the mountain reached their maximum extents in the mid-1800s.
The similarity between glacier fluctuations at Mount Baker and those elsewhere in the Cascades and in British Columbia suggests a coherent history of Holocene climate change over a broad area of the western Cordillera. We found no evidence that glaciers on stratovolcanoes behave differently than glaciers elsewhere.