Grounding-line retreat of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet from inner Pine Island Bay

Geology (Impact Factor: 4.64). 10/2012; 41(1). DOI: 10.1130/G33469.1

ABSTRACT Ice loss from the marine-based, potentially unstable West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) contributes to current sea-level rise and may raise sea level by <= 3.3 m or even <= 5 m in the future. Over the past few decades, glaciers draining the WAIS into the Amundsen Sea Embayment (ASE) have shown accelerated ice flow, rapid thinning, and fast retreat of the grounding line (GL). However, the long-term context of this ice loss is poorly constrained, limiting our ability to accurately predict future WAIS behavior. Here we present a new chronology for WAIS retreat from the inner continental shelf of the eastern ASE, based on radiocarbon dates from three marine sediment cores. The ages document a retreat of the GL to within similar to 100 km of its modern position before ca. 10,000 calibrated (cal.) yr B.P. This early deglaciation is consistent with ages for GL retreat from the western ASE. Our new data demonstrate that, in contrast to the Ross Sea, WAIS retreat from the ASE shelf was largely complete by the start of the Holocene. Our results further suggest either slow GL retreat from the inner ASE shelf throughout the Holocene, or that any episodes of fast GL retreat must have been short-lived. Thus, today's rapid retreat may be exceptional during the Holocene and may originate in recent changes in regional climate, ocean circulation, or ice-sheet dynamics.

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Available from: Rachel Downey, Jul 05, 2015
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    ABSTRACT: Modern Pine Island and Thwaites Glaciers, which both drain into Pine Island Bay, are among the fastest changing portions of the cryosphere and the least stable ice streams in Antarctica. Here we show that the uppermost sediment unit in Pine Island Bay was deposited from a meltwater plume, a plumite, during the late stages of ice sheet retreat ∼7–8.6 k cal yr BP and argue that this deposit records episodes of meltwater intensive sedimentation. The plumite is a hydraulically sorted, glacially sourced, draping deposit that overlies proximal glacimarine sediments and thickens towards the modern grounding line. The uppermost sediment unit is interpreted as a product of non-steady-state processes in which low background sedimentation in large bedrock-carved basins alternates with episodic purging of sediment-laden water from these basins. The inner part of Pine Island Bay contains several basins that are linked by channels with a storage capacity on the order of 70 km3 of stagnant water and significant sediment storage capacity. Purging of these basins is caused by changes in hydraulic potential and glacial reorganization. The sediment mobilized by these processes is found here to total 120 km3. This study demonstrates that episodes of meltwater-intensive sedimentation in Pine Island Bay occurred at least three times in the Holocene. The most recent episode coincides with rapid retreat of the grounding line in historical time and has an order of magnitude greater flux relative to the entire unit. We note that the final phase of ice stream retreat in Marguerite Bay was marked by a similar sedimentary event and suggest that the modern Thwaites Glacier is poised for an analogous meltwater-intensive phase of retreat.
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    WAIS Workshop, Sterling, VA; 09/2013
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