Regional-scale abrupt Mid-Holocene ice sheet thinning in the western Ross Sea, Antarctica

R Selwyn Jones, Ross Whitmore, Andrew N Mackintosh, Kevin P. Norton, Shaun R. Eaves, Jamey Stutz, Marcus Christl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

Outlet glaciers drain the majority of ice flow in the Antarctic ice sheet. Theory and numerical models indicate that local bed topography can play a key role in modulating outlet glacier response to climate warming, potentially resulting in delayed, asynchronous, or enhanced retreat. However, the period of modern observations is too short to assess whether local or regional controls dominate ice sheet response on time scales that are critical for understanding ice sheet mass loss over this century and beyond. The recent geological past allows for insight into such centennial-scale ice sheet behavior. We present a cosmogenic surface-exposure chronology from Mawson Glacier, adjacent to a region of the Ross Sea that underwent dynamic marine-based ice sheet retreat following the Last Glacial Maximum. Our data record at least 220 m of abrupt ice thinning between 7.5 and 4.5 ka, followed by more gradual thinning until the last millennium. The timing, rates, and magnitudes of thinning at Mawson Glacier are remarkably similar to that documented 100 km to the south at Mackay Glacier. Together, both outlet glaciers demonstrate that abrupt deglaciation occurred across a broad region in the Mid-Holocene. This happened despite the complex bed topography of the western Ross Sea and implies an overarching external driver of retreat. When compared to regional sea-level and ocean-temperature changes, our data indicate that ocean warming most likely drove grounding-line retreat and ice drawdown, which then accelerated as a result of marine ice sheet instability.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages5
JournalGeology
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 21 Oct 2020

Cite this