Understanding past changes in the Antarctic ice sheets provides insight into how they might respond to future climate warming. During the Pliocene and Pleistocene, geological data show that the East Antarctic Ice Sheet responded to glacial and interglacial cycles by remaining relatively stable in its interior, but oscillating at its marine-based margin. It is currently not clear how outlet glaciers, which connect the ice sheet interior to its margin, responded to these orbitally-paced climate cycles. Here we report new ice surface constraints from Skelton Glacier, an outlet of the East Antarctic ice sheet, which drains into the Ross Ice Shelf. Our multiple-isotope ( 10 Be and 26 Al) cosmogenic nuclide data indicate that currently ice-free areas adjacent to the glacier underwent substantial periods of exposure and ice cover in the past. We use an exposure-burial model driven by orbitally-paced glacial–interglacial cycles to determine the probable ice surface history implied by our data. This analysis shows that: 1) the glacier surface has likely fluctuated since at least the Pliocene; 2) the ice surface was >200 m higher than today during glacial periods, and the glacier has been thicker than present for ∼75–90% of each glacial–interglacial cycle; and 3) ice cover at higher elevations possibly occurred for a relatively shorter time per Pliocene cycle than Pleistocene cycle. Our multiple-nuclide approach demonstrates the magnitude of ice surface fluctuations during the Pliocene and Pleistocene that are linked to marine-based ice margin variability.
- cosmogenic nuclides
- ice sheet