skip to main content

Title: Holocene thinning of Darwin and Hatherton glaciers, Antarctica, and implications for grounding-line retreat in the Ross Sea
Abstract. Chronologies of glacier deposits in the Transantarctic Mountains provide important constraints on grounding-line retreat during the last deglaciation in the Ross Sea. However, between Beardmore Glacier and Ross Island – a distance of some 600 km – the existing chronologies are generally sparse and far from the modern grounding line, leaving the past dynamics of this vast region largely unconstrained. We present exposure ages of glacial deposits at three locations alongside the Darwin–Hatherton Glacier System – including within 10 km of the modern grounding line – that record several hundred meters of Late Pleistocene to Early Holocene thickening relative to present. As the ice sheet grounding line in the Ross Sea retreated, Hatherton Glacier thinned steadily from about 9 until about 3 ka. Our data are equivocal about the maximum thickness and Mid-Holocene to Early Holocene history at the mouth of Darwin Glacier, allowing for two conflicting deglaciation scenarios: (1) ∼500 m of thinning from 9 to 3 ka, similar to Hatherton Glacier, or (2) ∼950 m of thinning, with a rapid pulse of ∼600 m thinning at around 5 ka. We test these two scenarios using a 1.5-dimensional flowband model, forced by ice thickness changes at the mouth of Darwin Glacier and evaluated by fit to the chronology of deposits at Hatherton Glacier. The constraints from Hatherton Glacier are consistent with the interpretation that the mouth of Darwin Glacier thinned steadily by ∼500 m from 9 to 3 ka. Rapid pulses of thinning at the mouth of Darwin Glacier are ruled out by the data at Hatherton Glacier. This contrasts with some of the available records from the mouths of other outlet glaciers in the Transantarctic Mountains, many of which thinned by hundreds of meters over roughly a 1000-year period in the Early Holocene. The deglaciation histories of Darwin and Hatherton glaciers are best matched by a steady decrease in catchment area through the Holocene, suggesting that Byrd and/or Mulock glaciers may have captured roughly half of the catchment area of Darwin and Hatherton glaciers during the last deglaciation. An ensemble of three-dimensional ice sheet model simulations suggest that Darwin and Hatherton glaciers are strongly buttressed by convergent flow with ice from neighboring Byrd and Mulock glaciers, and by lateral drag past Minna Bluff, which could have led to a pattern of retreat distinct from other glaciers throughout the Transantarctic Mountains.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
The Cryosphere
Page Range / eLocation ID:
3329 to 3354
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. ABSTRACT The currently favored hypothesis for Late Paleozoic Ice Age glaciations is that multiple ice centers were distributed across Gondwana and that these ice centers grew and shank asynchronously. Recent work has suggested that the Transantarctic Basin has glaciogenic deposits and erosional features from two different ice centers, one centered on the Antarctic Craton and another located over Marie Byrd Land. To work towards an understanding of LPIA glaciation that can be tied to global trends, these successions must be understood on a local level before they can be correlated to basinal, regional, or global patterns. This study evaluates the sedimentology, stratigraphy, and flow directions of the glaciogenic, Asselian–Sakmarian (Early Permian) Pagoda Formation from four localities in the Shackleton Glacier region of the Transantarctic Basin to characterize Late Paleozoic Ice Age glaciation in a South Polar, basin-marginal setting. These analyses show that the massive, sandy, clast-poor diamictites of the Pagoda Fm were deposited in a basin-marginal subaqueous setting through a variety of glaciogenic and glacially influenced mechanisms in a depositional environment with depths below normal wave base. Current-transported sands and stratified diamictites that occur at the top of the Pagoda Fm were deposited as part of grounding-line fan systems. Up to at least 100 m of topographic relief on the erosional surface underlying the Pagoda Fm strongly influenced the thickness and transport directions in the Pagoda Fm. Uniform subglacial striae orientations across 100 m of paleotopographic relief suggest that the glacier was significantly thick to “overtop” the paleotopography in the Shackleton Glacier region. This pattern suggests that the glacier was likely not alpine, but rather an ice cap or ice sheet. The greater part of the Pagoda Fm in the Shackleton Glacier region was deposited during a single retreat phase. This retreat phase is represented by a single glacial depositional sequence that is characteristic of a glacier with a temperate or mild subpolar thermal regime and significant meltwater discharge. The position of the glacier margin likely experienced minor fluctuations (readvances) during this retreat. Though the sediment in the Shackleton Glacier region was deposited during a single glacier retreat phase, evidence from this study does not preclude earlier or later glacier advance–retreat cycles preserved elsewhere in the basin. Ice flow directions indicate that the glacier responsible for this sedimentation was likely flowing off of an upland on the side of the Transantarctic Basin closer to the Panthalassan–Gondwanide margin (Marie Byrd Land), which supports the hypothesis that two different ice centers contributed glaciogenic sediments to the Transantarctic Basin. Together, these observations and interpretations provide a detailed local description of Asselian–Sakmarian glaciation in a South Polar setting that can be used to understand larger-scale patterns of regional and global climate change during the Late Paleozoic Ice Age. 
    more » « less
  2. The Amundsen Sea sector of Antarctica has long been considered the most vulnerable part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) because of the great water depth at the grounding line, a subglacial bed seafloor deepening toward the interior of the continent, and the absence of substantial ice shelves. Glaciers in this configuration are thought to be susceptible to rapid or runaway retreat. Ice flowing into the Amundsen Sea Embayment is undergoing the most rapid changes of any sector of the Antarctic ice sheets outside the Antarctic Peninsula, including substantial grounding-line retreat over recent decades, as observed from satellite data. Recent models suggest that a threshold leading to the collapse of WAIS in this sector may have been already crossed and that much of the ice sheet could be lost even under relatively moderate greenhouse gas emission scenarios. Drill cores from the Amundsen Sea provide tests of several key questions about controls on ice sheet stability. The cores offer a direct offshore record of glacial history in a sector that is exclusively influenced by ice draining the WAIS, which allows clear comparisons between the WAIS history and low-latitude climate records. Today, relatively warm (modified) Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW) is impinging onto the Amundsen Sea shelf and causing melting under ice shelves and at the grounding line of the WAIS in most places. Reconstructions of past CDW intrusions can assess the ties between warm water upwelling and large-scale changes in past grounding-line positions. Carrying out these reconstructions offshore from the drainage basin that currently has the most substantial negative mass balance of ice anywhere in Antarctica is thus of prime interest to future predictions. The scientific objectives for this expedition are built on hypotheses about WAIS dynamics and related paleoenvironmental and paleoclimatic conditions. The main objectives are: 1. To test the hypothesis that WAIS collapses occurred during the Neogene and Quaternary and, if so, when and under which environmental conditions; 2. To obtain ice-proximal records of ice sheet dynamics in the Amundsen Sea that correlate with global records of ice-volume changes and proxy records for atmospheric and ocean temperatures; 3. To study the stability of a marine-based WAIS margin and how warm deepwater incursions control its position on the shelf; 4. To find evidence for the earliest major grounded WAIS advances onto the middle and outer shelf; 5. To test the hypothesis that the first major WAIS growth was related to the uplift of the Marie Byrd Land dome. International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expedition 379 completed two very successful drill sites on the continental rise of the Amundsen Sea. Site U1532 is located on a large sediment drift, now called the Resolution Drift, and it penetrated to 794 m with 90% recovery. We collected almost-continuous cores from recent age through the Pleistocene and Pliocene and into the upper Miocene. At Site U1533, we drilled 383 m (70% recovery) into the more condensed sequence at the lower flank of the same sediment drift. The cores of both sites contain unique records that will enable study of the cyclicity of ice sheet advance and retreat processes as well as ocean-bottom water circulation and water mass changes. In particular, Site U1532 revealed a sequence of Pliocene sediments with an excellent paleomagnetic record for high-resolution climate change studies of the previously sparsely sampled Pacific sector of the West Antarctic margin. Despite the drilling success at these sites, the overall expedition experienced three unexpected difficulties that affected many of the scientific objectives: 1. The extensive sea ice on the continental shelf prevented us from drilling any of the proposed shelf sites. 2. The drill sites on the continental rise were in the path of numerous icebergs of various sizes that frequently forced us to pause drilling or leave the hole entirely as they approached the ship. The overall downtime caused by approaching icebergs was 50% of our time spent on site. 3. A medical evacuation cut the expedition short by 1 week. Recovery of core on the continental rise at Sites U1532 and U1533 cannot be used to indicate the extent of grounded ice on the shelf or, thus, of its retreat directly. However, the sediments contained in these cores offer a range of clues about past WAIS extent and retreat. At Sites U1532 and U1533, coarse-grained sediments interpreted to be ice-rafted debris (IRD) were identified throughout all recovered time periods. A dominant feature of the cores is recorded by lithofacies cyclicity, which is interpreted to represent relatively warmer periods variably characterized by sediments with higher microfossil abundance, greater bioturbation, and higher IRD concentrations alternating with colder periods characterized by dominantly gray laminated terrigenous muds. Initial comparison of these cycles to published late Quaternary records from the region suggests that the units interpreted to be records of warmer time intervals in the core tie to global interglacial periods and the units interpreted to be deposits of colder periods tie to global glacial periods. Cores from the two drill sites recovered sediments of dominantly terrigenous origin intercalated or mixed with pelagic or hemipelagic deposits. In particular, Site U1533, which is located near a deep-sea channel originating from the continental slope, contains graded silts, sands, and gravels transported downslope from the shelf to the rise. The channel is likely the pathway of these sediments transported by turbidity currents and other gravitational downslope processes. The association of lithologic facies at both sites predominantly reflects the interplay of downslope and contouritic sediment supply with occasional input of more pelagic sediment. Despite the lack of cores from the shelf, our records from the continental rise reveal the timing of glacial advances across the shelf and thus the existence of a continent-wide ice sheet in West Antarctica during longer time periods since at least the late Miocene. Cores from both sites contain abundant coarse-grained sediments and clasts of plutonic origin transported either by downslope processes or by ice rafting. If detailed provenance studies confirm our preliminary assessment that the origin of these samples is from the plutonic bedrock of Marie Byrd Land, their thermochronological record will potentially reveal timing and rates of denudation and erosion linked to crustal uplift. The chronostratigraphy of both sites enables the generation of a seismic sequence stratigraphy for the entire Amundsen Sea continental rise, spanning the area offshore from the Amundsen Sea Embayment westward along the Marie Byrd Land margin to the easternmost Ross Sea through a connecting network of seismic lines. 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract. We report cosmogenic-nuclide measurements from two isolated groups of nunataks in West Antarctica: the Pirrit Hills, located midway between the grounding line and the divide in the Weddell Sea sector, and the Whitmore Mountains, located along the Ross–Weddell divide. At the Pirrit Hills, evidence of glacial-stage ice cover extends ∼320 m above the present ice surface. Subsequent thinning mostly occurred after ∼14 kyr BP, and modern ice levels were established some time after ∼4 kyr BP. We infer that, like at other flank sites, these changes were primarily controlled by the position of the grounding line downstream. At the Whitmore Mountains, cosmogenic 14C concentrations in bedrock surfaces demonstrate that ice there was no more than ∼190 m thicker than present during the past ∼30 kyr. Combined with other constraints from West Antarctica, the 14C data imply that the divide was thicker than present for a period of less than ∼8 kyr within the past ∼15 kyr. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that the divide initially thickened due to the deglacial rise in snowfall and subsequently thinned in response to retreat of the ice-sheet margin. We use these data to evaluate several recently published ice-sheet models at the Pirrit Hills and Whitmore Mountains. Most of the models we consider do not match the observed timing and/or magnitude of thickness change at these sites. However, one model performs relatively well at both sites, which may, in part, be due to the fact that it was calibrated with geological observations of ice-thickness change from other sites in Antarctica. 
    more » « less
  4. Abstract. Cosmogenic-nuclide concentrations in subglacial bedrock cores show that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) at a site between Thwaites and Pope glaciers was at least 35 m thinner than present in the past several thousand years and then subsequently thickened. This is important because of concern that present thinning and grounding line retreat at these and nearby glaciers in the Amundsen Sea Embayment may irreversibly lead to deglaciation of significant portions of the WAIS, with decimeter- to meter-scale sea level rise within decades to centuries. A past episode of ice sheet thinning that took place in a similar, although not identical, climate was not irreversible. We propose that the past thinning–thickening cycle was due to a glacioisostatic rebound feedback, similar to that invoked as a possible stabilizing mechanism for current grounding line retreat, in which isostatic uplift caused by Early Holocene thinning led to relative sea level fall favoring grounding line advance. 
    more » « less
  5. Abstract. Evidence for the timing and pace of past grounding lineretreat of the Thwaites Glacier system in the Amundsen Sea embayment (ASE)of Antarctica provides constraints for models that are used to predict thefuture trajectory of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). Existingcosmogenic nuclide surface exposure ages suggest that Pope Glacier, a formertributary of Thwaites Glacier, experienced rapid thinning in the early tomid-Holocene. There are relatively few exposure ages from the lower ice-freesections of Mt. Murphy (<300 m a.s.l.; metres above sea level) that are uncomplicated byeither nuclide inheritance or scatter due to localised topographiccomplexities; this makes the trajectory for the latter stages ofdeglaciation uncertain. This paper presents 12 new 10Be exposure agesfrom erratic cobbles collected from the western flank of Mt. Murphy, within160 m of the modern ice surface and 1 km from the present grounding line.The ages comprise two tightly clustered populations with mean deglaciationages of 7.1 ± 0.1 and 6.4 ± 0.1 ka (1 SE). Linear regressionanalysis applied to the age–elevation array of all available exposure agesfrom Mt. Murphy indicates that the median rate of thinning of Pope Glacierwas 0.27 m yr−1 between 8.1–6.3 ka, occurring 1.5 times faster thanpreviously thought. Furthermore, this analysis better constrains theuncertainty (95 % confidence interval) in the timing of deglaciation atthe base of the Mt. Murphy vertical profile (∼ 80 m above themodern ice surface), shifting it to earlier in the Holocene (from 5.2 ± 0.7 to 6.3 ± 0.4 ka). Taken together, the results presentedhere suggest that early- to mid-Holocene thinning of Pope Glacier occurredover a shorter interval than previously assumed and permit a longer durationover which subsequent late Holocene re-thickening could have occurred. 
    more » « less