Letter | Published:

Evidence for a landslide origin of New Zealand’s Waiho Loop moraine

Nature Geoscience volume 1, pages 524526 (2008) | Download Citation


The Waiho Loop moraine on South Island, New Zealand, has been interpreted as a consequence of Younger Dryas cooling in New Zealand1, and thus as evidence for inter-hemisphere synchroneity of climate change2,3. However, recent work has challenged both the timing of the event4 and whether strong cooling was necessary to initiate the advance4,5. Here, we characterize the sedimentology of the moraine to assess the possible causes of the advance. Our analysis shows that the composition of the Waiho Loop moraine is different from other moraines in the region, with respect to both the composition and the type of clasts present. We deduce that the moraine represents the end product of a major landslide onto the Franz Josef glacier, which triggered a substantial glacial advance. In combination with the revised age4 and temperature6,7 estimates for this region, our results suggest that there was no significant climatic forcing of this advance, including an alternative precipitation-driven model. Our study shows that glacial moraines are not necessarily climatic in origin, which must be taken into account when evaluating the mass balance responses of glacial systems1,8.

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This work was supported by a Mason Trust grant to D.S.T. and an internal University of Canterbury, Geological Sciences Department grant to J.S. and T.R.D.

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  1. Department of Geological Sciences, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch, New Zealand

    • D. Santamaria Tovar
    • , J. Shulmeister
    •  & T. R. Davies


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D.S.T. undertook the fieldwork, data analyses and drafted the figures. J.S. and T.R.D. co-supervised D.S.T., provided project design and co-wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to J. Shulmeister.

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    Supplementary tables S1-S4 and supplementary figures S1-S4

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