Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The Holocene Glacial History of Dart Glacier, Southern Alps, New Zealand

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posted on 2021-12-07, 17:19 authored by Dowling, Lisa

Mountain glaciers are sensitive climate indicators, as climate variability drives mass changes that are expressed in glacier length fluctuations. These length changes are preserved in the geological record, thus offering the potential to generate new palaeoclimate proxy data that can be used to extend instrumental climate records. This study presents geomorphological mapping and cosmogenic ¹⁰Be surface exposure dating of the Holocene moraines at Dart Glacier, New Zealand. These findings show that an early Holocene advance (~6 km longer than present-day) took place ~7817 ± 336 years ago. Moraine ages also show that a more restricted glacier readvance (~4 km longer than present-day) occurred ~321 ± 44 years ago. Through better constraining the timing and magnitude of Holocene glacier length changes, we extend the ~100-year history of observational records in the upper Dart valley.  Net retreat of Dart Glacier during the Holocene is consistent with other moraine chronologies from New Zealand, which supports existing hypotheses that suggest summer insolation was the dominant driver of multi-millennial climate change at southern mid-latitudes during the current interglacial. Individual moraine forming events at Dart Glacier also coincide with moraine ages from several other catchments in the Southern Alps and likely reflect shorter-term (decadal-centennial-scale) climatic changes. The new geological record constraints of length changes at Dart Glacier offer the opportunity to test such hypotheses more formally using physics-based modelling.  Connecting Holocene moraine records to historical glacier observations using ¹⁰Be surface exposure dating requires consistently low background levels of this rare isotope. Systematic blank experiments show that concentrated analytical grade hydrofluoric acid and reused beakers are likely the largest contributors of ¹⁰Be to the average process blank in the VUW Cosmogenic Laboratory. Based on these findings I recommend small methodological improvements that could be implemented to lower process blank ratios for routine application of ¹⁰Be surface exposure dating to near-historic glacial landforms.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Physical Geography

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Science

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Eaves, Shaun; Norton, Kevin