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1939 — Riddle of the retreating glaciers

From an Australian newspaper

Friday, January 13, 1939

RIDDLE OF THE GLACIERS — Ice Retreating, Geologists Still Puzzled

One of the riddles which is puzzling geologists all over the world is the continuous retreat of the ice glaciers.  Does this phenomenon indicate that the sun is getting hotter, as some astronomers believe or is it dependent up comparatively unimportant changes in the earth’s atmosphere?

Considerations such as these were discussed by Professor R. Speight, formerly professor of geology at Canterbury College, Christchurch, New Zealand and now curator of the Canterbury Museum, in his presidential address to the geology section of the Science Congress today.  His subject was “Some Aspects of Glaciation in New Zealand.”

The steady retreat of the glaciers in New Zealand, he said, had been observed during the last 70 years.  Photographs taken in 1896 and 1933 showed that several glaciershad retreated distances varying from 100 yards to half a mile in 40 years.

WORLD WIDE PHENOMENON

The phenomenon, however, was world-wide.  Equally impressive records were obtainable from Switzerland, Scandinavia, Iceland and the United States.  Attempts had been made to reconcile these observations with the Bruckner cycle of climate change every 36 years, Professor Speight said, but so many discrepancies occurred that in his opinion, precise synchronization with that period could not be accepted.

In Alaska, glaciers had been retreating from 100 to 200 years, the average rate of recession being about 50 feet a year.  The Antarctic ice-sheet also showed signs of recent retreat.

“In fact” said Professor Speight, ‘no case is recorded of a region of the world in which there are present signs of an advance.  This is quite apart from the general retreat since the Pleistocene age and may be merely a pausing phase.  It’s precise significance can only be determined by continued observation.”

Government of Australia Archives

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