A Laurentide outburst flooding event during the last interglacial period


Episodes of ice-sheet disintegration and meltwater release over glacial–interglacial cycles are recorded by discrete layers of detrital sediment in the Labrador Sea1,2. The most prominent layers reflect the release of iceberg armadas associated with cold Heinrich events3, but the detrital sediment carried by glacial outburst floods from the melting Laurentide Ice Sheet is also preserved4. Here we report an extensive layer of red detrital material in the Labrador Sea that was deposited during the early last interglacial period. We trace the layer through sediment cores collected along the Labrador and Greenland margins of the Labrador Sea. Biomarker data, Ca/Sr ratios and δ18O measurements link the carbonate contained in the red layer to the Palaeozoic bedrock of the Hudson Bay. We conclude that the debris was carried to the Labrador Sea during a glacial outburst flood through the Hudson Strait, analogous to the final Lake Agassiz outburst flood about 8,400 years ago, probably around the time of a last interglacial cold event in the North Atlantic5. We suggest that outburst floods associated with the final collapse of the Laurentide Ice Sheet may have been pervasive features during the early stages of Late Quaternary interglacial periods.

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Figure 1: Location map of the study area.
Figure 2: Line-scan images showing the red layer at Sites U1302 and U1305.
Figure 4: Data from Site U1305.
Figure 3: Data from Site U1302.


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We thank I. N. McCave for insightful discussion and suggestions for the paper. M. Hall, J. Rolfe and S. Crowhurst provided technical assistance. W. Hale and A. Wülbers at the Bremen Core Repository assisted with sampling, U. Rohl, V. Lukies and T. Westerhold at MARUM for assistance with XRF core scanning. This research used samples provided by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP). Financial support for this research was provided by NERC Grant NE/H009930/1 to D.A.H. and NERC studentship to J.A.L.N. B.D.A.N. acknowledges financial support from DFG-grant NA973/1-1 and J.E.T.C from National Science Foundation Grant OCE-0850413.

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J.A.L.N. and D.A.H. conceived the project, collected and interpreted the data, and drafted the paper. J.E.T.C. and D.A.H. identified site locations and collected the cores during IODP Expedition 303. B.D.A.N. performed the biomarker analysis and interpreted the data. C.H-M. produced the oxygen isotope stratigraphies. All authors contributed to data interpretation and the writing of the paper.

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Correspondence to Joseph A. L. Nicholl or B. David A. Naafs.

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Nicholl, J., Hodell, D., Naafs, B. et al. A Laurentide outburst flooding event during the last interglacial period. Nature Geosci 5, 901–904 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1622

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