Letter | Published:

Stability of the Larsen B ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula during the Holocene epoch

Nature volume 436, pages 681685 (04 August 2005) | Download Citation

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Abstract

The stability of the Antarctic ice shelves in a warming climate has long been discussed1, and the recent collapse of a significant part, over 12,500 km2 in area, of the Larsen ice shelf off the Antarctic Peninsula2,3 has led to a refocus toward the implications of ice shelf decay for the stability of Antarctica's grounded ice4,5,6. Some smaller Antarctic ice shelves have undergone periodic growth and decay over the past 11,000 yr (refs 7–11), but these ice shelves are at the climatic limit of ice shelf viability12 and are therefore expected to respond rapidly to natural climate variability at century to millennial scales8,9,10,11. Here we use records of diatoms, detrital material and geochemical parameters from six marine sediment cores in the vicinity of the Larsen ice shelf to demonstrate that the recent collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf is unprecedented during the Holocene. We infer from our oxygen isotope measurements in planktonic foraminifera that the Larsen B ice shelf has been thinning throughout the Holocene, and we suggest that the recent prolonged period of warming in the Antarctic Peninsula region13,14, in combination with the long-term thinning, has led to collapse of the ice shelf.

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Acknowledgements

This work as supported by grants from the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs. Timely support of analytical needs at the University of Arizona Accelerator Facility and the National Ocean Sciences Accelerator Mass Spectrometer laboratory was appreciated, as were the contributions of H. Schrum, E. Backman and K. Bart, and the comments by M. Canals, E. Rignot, L. Padman and T. Scambos.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Geosciences, Hamilton College, Clinton, New York 13323, USA

    • Eugene Domack
    • , Diana Duran
    •  & Sarah Doane
  2. Department of Geology, Colgate University, Hamilton, New York 13346, USA

    • Amy Leventer
  3. Department of Geology, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois 62901, USA

    • Scott Ishman
    •  & Scott McCallum
  4. Department of Stratigraphy, Paleontology, and Marine Geosciences, University of Barcelona, 08028 Barcelona, Spain

    • David Amblas
  5. Physics Department, Hamilton College, Clinton, New York 13323, USA

    • Jim Ring
  6. Department of Geography, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario ON K7L 3N6, Canada

    • Robert Gilbert
  7. Department of Earth Science, University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire 03824, USA

    • Michael Prentice

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Competing interests

Reprints and permissions information is available at npg.nature.com/reprintsandpermissions. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Eugene Domack.

Supplementary information

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  1. 1.

    Supplementary Notes

    This file contains two Supplementary Figures and a list of additional references. Supplementary Figure S1 illustrates the back scatter data from our multi-beam survey in the LIS-B region. The figures are composites so the caption is listed separately afterwards. Supplementary Figure S2 with caption illustrates variation in grain composition (petrology) within core KC-5 in the LIS-B region.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature03908

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