Rapid early Holocene retreat of a Laurentide outlet glacier through an Arctic fjord

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Ice-sheet behaviour is disproportionately controlled by the dynamics of outlet glaciers that terminate in the ocean1,2. However, outlet-glacier dynamics—particularly over timescales longer than the observational record—are not well understood3, leading to uncertainties in our models of ice-sheet response to climate change. Here we use 10Be exposure ages and radiocarbon dating from the Sam Ford Fjord in the Canadian Arctic to reconstruct the retreat chronology of an outlet glacier of the Laurentide ice sheet, following the last glacial termination. We find that Sam Ford Fjord, which has a similar morphology to the troughs holding many outlet glaciers of the Greenland ice sheet, was rapidly deglaciated about 9,500 years ago, with retreat rates ranging from 5 to 58 m yr−1. The highest rates occurred in the deepest part of the fjord (900 m), whereas regions beyond the fjord mouth and up-valley of the head of the fjord experienced the lowest rates of retreat. We conclude that in such a fjord setting, there is a strong bathymetric control on the retreat of marine outlet glaciers: once the terminus of the outlet glacier retreated into deeper waters, increasing calving rates and basal sliding speeds caused the glacier to rapidly thin and retreat, stabilizing only when it reached the shallow inland head of the fjord.

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Figure 1: Sam Ford Fjord drained part of the northeastern Laurentide ice sheet.
Figure 2: Sample locations, 10Be and 14C ages and the Sam Ford Fjord landscape.


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We express sincere thanks to many people who helped this project along the way: J. Qillaq of Clyde River; R. Finkel and D. Rood at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; M. Caffee and others at PRIME Lab; T. Bank, B. Csatho, L. Håkansson, E. Thomas and N. Young in the Department of Geology, University at Buffalo; S. Lehman and C. Wolak at the INSTAAR Laboratory for AMS Radiocarbon Preparation and Research. This project was financially supported by NSF grant EAR-0644966.

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J.P.B. and R.S.A. instigated and directed this research. All authors participated in fieldwork and designed the field sampling strategy. A.C.B. carried out all sample processing and initial data interpretation. All authors contributed to manuscript preparation.

Correspondence to Jason P. Briner.

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