The late Quaternary environmental history of the Lake Heron basin, Mid Canterbury, New Zealand
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
The Lake Heron basin is an intermontane basin located approximately 30 kms west of Mount Hutt. Sediments within the basin are derived from a glacier that passed through the Lake Stream Valley from the upper Rakaia Valley. The lack of major drainage in the south part of the basin has increased the preservation potential of glacial phenomena. The area provides opportunities for detailed glacial geomorphology, sedimentology and micropaleontogical work, from which a very high-resolution study on climate change spanning the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) through to the present was able to be reconstructed. The geomorphology reveals a complex glacial history spanning multiple glaciations. The Pyramid and Dogs Hill Advance are undated but possibly relate to the Waimaungan and Waimean glaciations. The Emily Formation (EM), previously thought to be MIS 4 (Mabin, 1984), was dated using Be10 to c. 25 ka B.P. The EM was largest advance of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). Ice during the LGM was at least 150m thicker than previously thought, as indicated by relatively young ages of high elevation moraines. Numerous moraine ridges and kame terraces show a continuous recession from LGM limits, and, supported by decreasing Be10 ages for other LGM moraines, it seems ice retreat was punctuated by minor glacial readvances and still-stands. These may be associated with decadal-scale climate variations, such as the PDO or early ENSO-like systems. There are relatively little sedimentological exposures in the area other than those on the shores of Lake Heron. The sediment at this location demonstrates the nature of glacial and paraglacial sedimentation during the later stages of ice retreat. They show that ice fronts oscillated across several hundred metres before retreating into Lake Heron proper. Vegetation change at Staces Tarn (1200m asl) indicates climate amelioration in the early Holocene. The late glacial vegetation cover of herb and small shrubs was replaced by a low, montane forest about 7,000 yrs B.P, approximately at the time of the regional thermal maxima. From 7,000 and 1,400 yrs B.P, temperatures slowly declined, and grasses slowly moved back onto the site, although the montane forest was still the dominant vegetation. Fires were frequent in the area extending back at least 6,000 years B.P. The largest fire, about 5,300 yrs B.P, caused major forest disruption. But full recovered occurred within about 500 years. Beech forest appears at the site about 3,300 yrs B.P and becomes the dominant forest cover about 1,400 yrs B.P. Cooler, cloudier winters and disturbance by fire promoted the expansion of beech forest at the expense of the previous low, montane forest. Both the increased frequency of fire events and late Holocene beech spread may be linked to ENSO-related variations in rainfall. The youngest zone is characterised by both a dramatic decline in beech forest and an increase in grasses, possibly representing human activity in the area.