Letter | Published:

Ice stream activity scaled to ice sheet volume during Laurentide Ice Sheet deglaciation

Nature volume 530, pages 322326 (18 February 2016) | Download Citation

Abstract

The contribution of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets to sea level has increased in recent decades, largely owing to the thinning and retreat of outlet glaciers and ice streams1,2,3,4. This dynamic loss is a serious concern, with some modelling studies suggesting that the collapse of a major ice sheet could be imminent5,6 or potentially underway7 in West Antarctica, but others predicting a more limited response8. A major problem is that observations used to initialize and calibrate models typically span only a few decades, and, at the ice-sheet scale, it is unclear how the entire drainage network of ice streams evolves over longer timescales. This represents one of the largest sources of uncertainty when predicting the contributions of ice sheets to sea-level rise8,9,10. A key question is whether ice streams might increase and sustain rates of mass loss over centuries or millennia, beyond those expected for a given ocean–climate forcing5,6,7,8,9,10. Here we reconstruct the activity of 117 ice streams that operated at various times during deglaciation of the Laurentide Ice Sheet (from about 22,000 to 7,000 years ago) and show that as they activated and deactivated in different locations, their overall number decreased, they occupied a progressively smaller percentage of the ice sheet perimeter and their total discharge decreased. The underlying geology and topography clearly influenced ice stream activity, but—at the ice-sheet scale—their drainage network adjusted and was linked to changes in ice sheet volume. It is unclear whether these findings can be directly translated to modern ice sheets. However, contrary to the view that sees ice streams as unstable entities that can accelerate ice-sheet deglaciation, we conclude that ice streams exerted progressively less influence on ice sheet mass balance during the retreat of the Laurentide Ice Sheet.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1.

    , , & Ice-sheet and sea-level changes. Science 310, 456–460 (2005)

  2. 2.

    & Changes in the velocity structure of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Science 311, 986–990 (2006)

  3. 3.

    et al. Recent Antarctic ice mass loss from radar interferometry and regional climate modelling. Nature Geosci. 1, 106–110 (2008)

  4. 4.

    , , , & Acceleration of the contribution of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to sea level rise. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L05503 (2011)

  5. 5.

    et al. The multi-millennial Antarctic commitment to future sea-level rise. Nature 526, 421–425 (2015)

  6. 6.

    & Collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet after local destabilization of the Amundsen Basin. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 14191–14196 (2015)

  7. 7.

    , & Marine ice sheet collapse potentially under way for the Thwaites Glacier Basin, West Antarctica. Science 344, 735–738 (2014)

  8. 8.

    et al. Potential sea-level rise from Antarctic ice-sheet instability constrained by observations. Nature 528, 115–118 (2015)

  9. 9.

    Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (eds et al.) 3–29 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013)

  10. 10.

    & Durations and propagation patterns of ice sheet instability events. Quat. Sci. Rev. 92, 32–39 (2014)

  11. 11.

    , & Ice flow of the Antarctic ice sheet. Science 333, 1427–1430 (2011)

  12. 12.

    Characteristics of ice flow in Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica. J. Glaciol. 24, 63–75 (1979)

  13. 13.

    et al. The extreme melt across the Greenland ice sheet in 2012. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L20502 (2012)

  14. 14.

    , , & Ice streams in the Laurentide Ice Sheet: a new mapping inventory. J. Maps 11, 380–395 (2015)

  15. 15.

    , & Deglaciation of North America. Open File Report No. 1574 (Geological Survey of Canada, 2003)

  16. 16.

    , , & A data-calibrated distribution of deglacial chronologies for the North American ice complex from glaciological modeling. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 315–316, 30–40 (2012)

  17. 17.

    , , , & Laurentide ice-sheet instability during the last deglaciation. Nature Geosci. 8, 534–537 (2015)

  18. 18.

    , & What controls the location of ice streams? Earth Sci. Rev. 103, 45–59 (2010)

  19. 19.

    Surface form of the southern Laurentide Ice Sheet and its implications to ice-sheet dynamics. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 104, 595–605 (1992)

  20. 20.

    , & Large-scale reorganisation and sedimentation of terrestrial ice streams during late Wisconsinan Laurentide Ice Sheet deglaciation. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 122, 743–756 (2010)

  21. 21.

    & Laurentide ice streaming over the Canadian Shield: a conflict with the soft-bedded ice stream paradigm? Geology 31, 347–350 (2003)

  22. 22.

    et al. Surface-melt driven Laurentide Ice Sheet retreat during the early Holocene. Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L24502 (2009)

  23. 23.

    , & Increased channelization of subglacial drainage during deglaciation of the Laurentide Ice Sheet. Geology 42, 239–242 (2014)

  24. 24.

    & Terrestrial record of Laurentide Ice Sheet reorganisation during Heinrich events. Geology 25, 987–990 (1997)

  25. 25.

    Heinrich events: massive late Pleistocene detritus layers of the North Atlantic and their global climate imprint. Revs. Geophys. 42, RG1005 (2004)

  26. 26.

    et al. Ice-shelf collapse from subsurface warming as a trigger for Heinrich events. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 108, 13415–13419 (2011)

  27. 27.

    et al. Ice-sheet collapse and sea-level rise at the Bolling warming 14,600 years ago. Nature 483, 559–564 (2012)

  28. 28.

    , & Deglacial rapid sea level rises caused by ice-sheet saddle collapses. Nature 487, 219–222 (2012)

  29. 29.

    et al. A new bed elevation dataset for Greenland. The Cryosphere 7, 499–510 (2013)

  30. 30.

    et al. Bedmap 2: improved ice bed, surface and thickness datasets for Antarctica. The Cryosphere 7, 375–393 (2013)

  31. 31.

    The Physics of Glaciers 3rd edn, 301 (Pergamon, 1994)

  32. 32.

    & Geomorphological criteria for identifying Pleistocene ice streams. Ann. Glaciol. 28, 67–74 (1999)

  33. 33.

    & Drumlin fields, dispersal trains, and ice streams in Arctic Canada. Can. Geogr. 32, 86–90 (1988)

  34. 34.

    Mega-scale glacial lineations and cross-cutting ice flow landforms. Earth Surf. Process. Landf. 18, 1–29 (1993)

  35. 35.

    , & Formation of mega-scale glacial lineations observed beneath a West Antarctic ice stream. Nature Geosci. 2, 585–588 (2009)

  36. 36.

    & Extent and basal characteristics of the M’Clintock Channel Ice Stream. Quat. Int. 86, 81–101 (2001)

  37. 37.

    Episodic ice streams and ice shelves during retreat of the northwesternmost sector of the late Wisconsinan Laurentide Ice Sheet over the central Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Boreas 23, 14–28 (1994)

  38. 38.

    & Ice stream shear margin moraines. Earth Surf. Process. Landf. 27, 547–558 (2002)

  39. 39.

    Identification and mapping of palaeo-ice stream geomorphology from satellite imagery: implications for ice stream functioning and ice sheet dynamics. Int. J. Remote Sens. 23, 1557–1563 (2002)

  40. 40.

    & The physiography of high Arctic cross-shelf troughs. Quat. Sci. Rev. 92, 68–96 (2014)

  41. 41.

    & Palaeo-ice streams. Quat. Sci. Rev. 20, 1437–1457 (2001)

  42. 42.

    , , & Geological constraints on Antarctic palaeo-ice stream retreat. Earth Surf. Process. Landf. 33, 513–525 (2008)

  43. 43.

    , & Major changes in ice stream dynamics during deglaciation of the north-western margin of the Laurentide Ice Sheet. Quat. Sci. Rev. 28, 721–738 (2009)

  44. 44.

    , , & MEaSUREs Greenland Ice Sheet Velocity Map from InSAR Data. (National Snow and Ice Data Center, 2010)

  45. 45.

    , , , & Greenland flow variability from ice-sheet-wide velocity mapping. J. Glaciol. 56, 415–430 (2010)

  46. 46.

    , & MEaSUREs InSAR-Based Antarctica Ice Velocity Map. (National Snow and Ice Data Center, 2011)

  47. 47.

    Global Digital Evaluation Model (GTOPO30). US Geological Survey, EROS Data Center Distributed Active Archive Center (EDC DAAC) (2004)

  48. 48.

    , , & Cosmogenic radionuclides from fjord landscapes support differential erosion by overriding ice sheets. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 118, 406–420 (2006)

  49. 49.

    et al. A conceptual model of the deglaciation of Atlantic Canada. Quat. Sci. Rev. 19, 959–980 (2000)

  50. 50.

    et al. North American Ice Sheet build-up during the last glacial cycle, 115–21 kyr. Quat. Sci. Rev. 29, 2036–2051 (2010)

  51. 51.

    & Palaeo-glaciological insights from the age and morphology of the Jesse moraine belt, western Canadian Arctic. Quat. Sci. Rev. 47, 82–100 (2012)

  52. 52.

    & Late Wisconsinan glaciation and postglacial relative sea-level change on western Banks Island, Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Quat. Res. 80, 99–112 (2013)

  53. 53.

    et al. Arctic Ocean glacial history. Quat. Sci. Rev. 92, 40–67 (2014)

  54. 54.

    & Expanded Late Wisconsinan ice cap and ice sheet margins in the western Queen Elizabeth Islands, Arctic Canada. Quat. Sci. Rev. 91, 146–164 (2014)

  55. 55.

    et al. The International Bathymetric Chart of the Arctic Ocean (IBCAO) Version 3.0. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L12609 (2012)

  56. 56.

    ArcticNet. [accessed 1 December 2013] (2013)

  57. 57.

    , & Ice streams in the Laurentide Ice Sheet: identification, characteristics and comparison to modern ice sheets. Earth Sci. Rev. 143, 117–146 (2015)

  58. 58.

    , & Antarctic grounding line mapping from differential satellite radar interferometry. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L10504 (2011)

Download references

Acknowledgements

This research was funded by a Natural Environment Research Council award NE/J00782X/1 (C.R.S. and C.D.C.). Landsat imagery and the GTOPO30 digital elevation model were provided free of charge by the US Geological Survey Earth Resources Observation Science Centre.

Author information

Author notes

    • M. Margold

    Present address: Department of Physical Geography, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden.

Affiliations

  1. Department of Geography, Durham University, Durham, UK

    • C. R. Stokes
    •  & M. Margold
  2. Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK

    • C. D. Clark
  3. Department of Physics and Physical Oceanography, Memorial University, St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada

    • L. Tarasov

Authors

  1. Search for C. R. Stokes in:

  2. Search for M. Margold in:

  3. Search for C. D. Clark in:

  4. Search for L. Tarasov in:

Contributions

C.R.S. designed the study and wrote the proposal with C.D.C. M.M. generated the data on the timing of Laurentide ice streams, modern-ice stream discharge and Laurentide ice stream discharge, and produced the figures, with input from C.R.S. and C.D.C. L.T. contributed data from numerical modelling. All authors contributed to the analyses and interpretations of the data. C.R.S. wrote the manuscript with input from all authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to C. R. Stokes.

Extended data

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature16947

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.