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


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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Figure 1: Location maps, satellite imagery and ocean profiles.
Figure 2: Bottom photographs and core stratigraphy for sea-floor stations within the Larsen B embayment.
Figure 3: Microfossil abundance and radioactive 210 Pb activity within marine sediment cores from beneath the Larsen ice shelf.

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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.

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Correspondence to Eugene Domack.

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Reprints and permissions information is available at The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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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. (DOC 906 kb)

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Domack, E., Duran, D., Leventer, A. et al. Stability of the Larsen B ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula during the Holocene epoch. Nature 436, 681–685 (2005).

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