Numerical simulations of the Cordilleran ice sheet through the last glacial cycle
Abstract. After more than a century of geological research, the Cordilleran ice sheet of North America remains among the least understood in terms of its former extent, volume, and dynamics. Because of the mountainous topography on which the ice sheet formed, geological studies have often had only local or regional relevance and shown such a complexity that ice-sheet-wide spatial reconstructions of advance and retreat patterns are lacking. Here we use a numerical ice sheet model calibrated against field-based evidence to attempt a quantitative reconstruction of the Cordilleran ice sheet history through the last glacial cycle. A series of simulations is driven by time-dependent temperature offsets from six proxy records located around the globe. Although this approach reveals large variations in model response to evolving climate forcing, all simulations produce two major glaciations during marine oxygen isotope stages 4 (62.2–56.9 ka) and 2 (23.2–16.9 ka). The timing of glaciation is better reproduced using temperature reconstructions from Greenland and Antarctic ice cores than from regional oceanic sediment cores. During most of the last glacial cycle, the modelled ice cover is discontinuous and restricted to high mountain areas. However, widespread precipitation over the Skeena Mountains favours the persistence of a central ice dome throughout the glacial cycle. It acts as a nucleation centre before the Last Glacial Maximum and hosts the last remains of Cordilleran ice until the middle Holocene (6.7 ka).