Abrupt mid-Holocene ice loss in the western Weddell Sea Embayment of Antarctica

TitleAbrupt mid-Holocene ice loss in the western Weddell Sea Embayment of Antarctica
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsJohnson, JS, Nichols, KA, Goehring, BM, Balco, G, Schaefer, JM
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Pagination127 - 135
Date PublishedJan-07-2019
KeywordsAntarctica, cosmogenic dating in situ 14C, Holocene, Weddell Sea ice sheet

The glacial history of the westernmost Weddell Sea sector of Antarctica since the Last Glacial Maximum is virtually unknown, and yet it has been identified as critical for improving reliability of glacio-isostatic adjustment models that are required to correct satellite-derived estimates of ice sheet mass balance. Better knowledge of the glacial history of this region is also important for validating ice sheet models that are used to predict future contribution of the Antarctic ice sheet to sea level rise. Here we present a new Holocene deglacial chronology from a site on the Lassiter Coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, which is situated in the western Weddell Sea sector. Samples from 12 erratic cobbles and 18 bedrock surfaces from a series of presently-exposed ridges were analysed for cosmogenic Be-10 exposure dating, and a smaller suite of 7 bedrock samples for in situ C-14 dating. The resulting Be-10 ages are predominantly in the range 80-690 ka, whereas bedrock yielded much younger in situ C-14 ages, in the range 6.0-7.5 ka for samples collected from 138-385 m above the modern ice surface. From these we infer that the ice sheet experienced a period of abrupt thinning over a short time interval (no more than 2700 years) in the mid-Holocene, resulting in lowering of its surface by at least 250 m. Any late Holocene change in ice sheet thickness - such as re-advance, postulated by several modelling studies - must lie below the present ice sheet surface. The substantial difference in exposure ages derived from Be-10 and C-14 dating for the same samples additionally implies ubiquitous Be-10 inheritance acquired during ice-free periods prior to the last deglaciation, an interpretation that is consistent with our glacial-geomorphological field observations for former cold-based ice cover. The results of this study provide evidence for an episode of abrupt ice sheet surface lowering in the mid-Holocene, similar in rate, timing and magnitude to at least two other locations in Antarctica.