19 Nov 2020

19 Nov 2020

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Did Holocene climate changes drive West Antarctic grounding line retreat and re-advance?

Sarah U. Neuhaus1, Slawek M. Tulaczyk1, Nathan D. Stansell2, Jason J. Coenen2, Reed P. Scherer2, Jill A. Mikucki3, and Ross D. Powell2 Sarah U. Neuhaus et al.
  • 1Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of California Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA, 95064, USA
  • 2Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL, 60115, USA
  • 3Department of Microbiology, University of Tennessee Knoxville, Knoxville, TN, 37996, USA

Abstract. Knowledge of past ice sheet configurations is useful for informing projections of future ice sheet dynamics and for calibrating ice sheet models. The topology of grounding line retreat in the Ross Sea Sector of Antarctica has been much debated, but it has generally been assumed that the modern ice sheet is as small as it has been for more than 100,000 years (Conway et al., 1999; Lee et al., 2017; Lowry et al., 2019; McKay et al., 2016; Scherer et al., 1998). Recent findings suggest that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) grounding line retreated beyond its current location earlier in the Holocene and subsequently re-advanced to reach its modern position (Bradley et al., 2015; Kingslake et al., 2018). Here, we further constrain the post-LGM grounding line retreat and re-advance in the Ross Sea Sector using a two-phase model of radiocarbon input and decay in subglacial sediments from six sub-ice sampling locations. In addition, we reinterpret high basal temperature gradients, measured previously at three sites in this region (Engelhardt, 2004), which we explain as resulting from recent ice shelf re-grounding accompanying grounding line re-advance. At one location – Subglacial Lake Whillans (SLW) – for which a sediment porewater chemistry profile is known, we estimate the grounding line re-advance by simulating ionic diffusion. Collectively, our analyses indicate that the grounding line retreated over SLW ca. 4000 years ago, and over sites on Whillans Ice Stream (WIS), Kamb Ice Stream (KIS), and Bindschadler Ice Stream (BIS) ca. 4500, ca. 2000, and ca. 2000 years ago respectively. The grounding line only recently re-advanced back over those sites ca. 1000, ca. 1100, ca. 500, and ca. 500 years ago for SLW, WIS, KIS, and BIS respectively. The timing of grounding line retreat coincided with a warm period in the mid- to late-Holocene. Conversely, grounding line re-advance is coincident with climate cooling in the last 1000–2000 years. Our estimates for the timing of grounding line retreat and re-advance are also consistent with relatively low carbon-to-nitrogen ratios measured in our subglacial sediment samples (suggesting a marine source of organic matter) and with the lack of grounding-zone wedges in front of modern grounding lines. Based on these results, we propose that the Siple Coast grounding line motions in the mid- to late-Holocene were driven by relatively modest changes in regional climate, rather than by ice sheet dynamics and glacioisostatic rebound, as hypothesized previously (Kingslake et al., 2018).

Sarah U. Neuhaus et al.

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Sarah U. Neuhaus et al.

Sarah U. Neuhaus et al.


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