GIS Analysis of Cirques on Vestfirðir, Northwest Iceland: Implications for Palaeoclimate

Student Authors

Jessica F. Lee: Class of 2013

Document Type


Publication Date



Environmental Studies


This study presents the first regional analysis of cirques on Vestfirðir, NW Iceland, using a Geographical Information System (GIS). The length, width, elevation of cirque-floor, latitude and the distance to the modern coastline (both ocean and fjord coastlines) of cirques were quantified using ArcGIS. The topographical analysis revealed a total of 100 cirques on western and northern Vestfirðir. Several additional cirques are present, but they had poorly defined toewalls, making the cirque-floor difficult to identify. Mean cirque length is 515 m and mean cirque width is 752 m. The modal orientation of the aspect of cirques is northeast, with a strong secondary mode to the northwest. Cirques at low elevations are more abundant close to the ocean, whereas cirques further from the ocean are present at high elevations. Three techniques were used to reconstruct past equilibrium-line altitudes (ELAs) of cirque glaciers: the cirque-floor method, the altitude-ratio method and the accumulation-area ratio method. The largest range of past ELAs is generated from the cirque-floor method with values from 40 up to 730 m. Mean past ELA values range from ∼395 to 423 m depending on the method used to reconstruct former ELAs. A strong positive relationship is observed between past ELA values and distance to the ocean demonstrating the importance of access to a moisture source for glacier survival. This relationship is stronger than the relationship between former ELAs and latitude. Based on the small size of cirque glaciers, it is likely that even minor fluctuations in the Irminger Current and the East Greenland Current influence cirque glaciation on Vestfirðir.


Original version is available from the publisher at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bor.12075/abstract

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