17 Oct 2020

17 Oct 2020

Review status: a revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Mid-Holocene thinning of David Glacier, Antarctica: Chronology and Controls

Jamey Stutz1, Andrew Mackintosh2, Kevin Norton3, Ross Whitmore1,2, Carlo Baroni4, Stewart S. R. Jamieson5, R. Selwyn Jones2, Greg Balco6, Maria Cristina Salvatore4, Stefano Casale4, Jae Il Lee7, Yeong Bae Seong8, Hyun Hee Rhee8, Robert McKay1, Lauren J. Vargo1, Daniel Lowry1,9, Perry Spector6, Marcus Cristl10, Susan Ivy Ochs10, Luigia Di Nicola11, Maria Iarossi4, Finlay Stuart11, and Tom Woodruff12 Jamey Stutz et al.
  • 1Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington, New Zealand 6140
  • 2School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment, Monash University, 14 Rainforest Walk, Victoria, Australia 3800
  • 3School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington, New Zealand 6140
  • 4Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra, Università di Pisa, Via Santa Maria, 53, 56126 Pisa, Italy
  • 5Department of Geography, Durham University, South Road, Durham, DH1 3LE, UK
  • 6Berkeley Geochronology Center, 2455 Ridge Road, Berkeley, CA 94709, USA
  • 7Korean Polar Research Institute, 26 Songdomirae-ro, Yeonsu-gu, Incheon 21990, Korea
  • 8Department of Geography, Korea University, 145 Anam-ro, Seongbuk-gu, Seoul, Korea
  • 9GNS Science, 1 Fairway Dr. Avalon, 5010, New Zealand
  • 10Department of Physics, ETH Zürich, Otto-Stern-Weg 5 8093 Zürich, Switzerland
  • 11Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, Scottish Enterprise Technology Park/Rankine Av, Glasgow G75 0QF, United Kingdom
  • 12PRIME Lab, Purdue University 525 Northwestern Avenue, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA

Abstract. Quantitative satellite observations provide a comprehensive assessment of ice sheet mass loss over the last four decades, but limited insights into long-term drivers of ice sheet change. Geological records can extend the observational record and aid our understanding of ice sheet–climate interactions. Here we present the first millennial-scale reconstruction of David Glacier, the largest East Antarctic outlet glacier in Victoria Land. We use surface exposure dating of glacial erratics deposited on nunataks to reconstruct changes in ice surface elevation through time. We then use numerical modelling experiments to determine the drivers of glacial thinning.

Thinning profiles derived from 45 10Be and 3He surface exposure ages show that David Glacier experienced rapid thinning up to 2 m/yr during the mid-Holocene (~ 6,500 years ago). Thinning stabilised at 6 kyr, suggesting initial formation of the Drygalski Ice Tongue at this time. Our work, along with terrestrial cosmogenic nuclide records from adjacent glaciers, shows simultaneous glacier thinning in this sector of the Transantarctic Mountains occurred ~ 3 kyr after the retreat of marine-based grounded ice in the western Ross Embayment. The timing and rapidity of the reconstructed thinning at David Glacier is similar to reconstructions in the Amundsen and Weddell embayments.

In order to identify the potential causes of these rapid changes along the David Glacier, we use a glacier flow line model designed for calving glaciers and compare modelled results against our geological data. We show that glacier thinning and marine-based grounding line retreat is initiated by interactions between enhanced sub-ice shelf melting and reduced lateral buttressing, leading to Marine Ice Sheet Instability. Such rapid glacier thinning events are not captured in continental or sector-scale numerical modelling reconstructions for this period. Together, our chronology and modelling suggest a ~ 2,000-year period of dynamic thinning in the recent geological past.

Jamey Stutz et al.

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Jamey Stutz et al.

Jamey Stutz et al.


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Short summary
Understanding the long term behavior of ice sheets is essential to projecting future changes due to climate change. In this study, we use rocks deposited along the margin of the David Glacier, one of the largest glacier systems in the world, to reveal a rapid thinning event initiated over 7,000 years ago and endured for ~ 2,000 years. Using physical models, we show that sub-glacial topography and ocean heat are important drivers for change along this sector of the Antarctic Ice Sheet.