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Ice shelves in the Pleistocene Arctic Ocean inferred from glaciogenic deep-sea bedforms


It has been proposed that during Pleistocene glaciations, an ice cap of 1 kilometre or greater thickness covered the Arctic Ocean1,2,3. This notion contrasts with the prevailing view that the Arctic Ocean was covered only by perennial sea ice with scattered icebergs4,5,6. Detailed mapping of the ocean floor is the best means to resolve this issue. Although sea-floor imagery has been used to reconstruct the glacial history of the Antarctic shelf 7,8,9, little data have been collected in the Arctic Ocean because of operational constraints10,11. The use of a geophysical mapping system during the submarine SCICEX expedition in 199912 provided the opportunity to perform such an investigation over a large portion of the Arctic Ocean. Here we analyse backscatter images and sub-bottom profiler records obtained during this expedition from depths as great as 1 kilometre. These records show multiple bedforms indicative of glacial scouring and moulding of sea floor, combined with large-scale erosion of submarine ridge crests. These distinct glaciogenic features demonstrate that immense, Antarctic-type ice shelves up to 1 kilometre thick and hundreds of kilometres long existed in the Arctic Ocean during Pleistocene glaciations.

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Figure 1: Map of the Arctic Ocean30.
Figure 2: Swath sonar images from Chukchi plateau with overlain depth contour lines.
Figure 3: Swath sonar images from the eastern part of Chukchi rise with overlain depth contour lines.
Figure 4: Swath sonar and chirp images from Lomonosov ridge.


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We thank R. Perry (the captain), the officers and crew of the USS Hawkbill and the scientists and engineers who sailed during SCICEX-99; we also thank P. Johnson for assistance with figures. This work was supported by the US NSF.

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Correspondence to Leonid Polyak.

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Polyak, L., Edwards, M., Coakley, B. et al. Ice shelves in the Pleistocene Arctic Ocean inferred from glaciogenic deep-sea bedforms. Nature 410, 453–457 (2001).

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