Eurasian Ice Sheet collapse was a major source of Meltwater Pulse 1A 14,600 years ago


Rapid sea-level rise caused by the collapse of large ice sheets is a threat to human societies. In the last deglacial period, the rate of global sea-level rise peaked at more than 4 cm yr−1 during Meltwater Pulse 1A, which coincided with the Bølling warming event some 14,650 years ago. However, the sources of the meltwater have proven elusive, and the contribution from Eurasian ice sheets has been considered negligible. Here, we present a regional carbon-14 calibration curve for the Norwegian Sea and recalibrate marine 14C dates linked to the Eurasian Ice Sheet retreat. We find that marine-based sectors of the Eurasian Ice Sheet collapsed at the Bølling transition and lost an ice volume of 4.5–7.9 m sea-level equivalents (SLE) over 500 years. During peak melting, 3.3–6.7 m SLE of ice was lost, potentially explaining up to half of Meltwater Pulse 1A. A mean meltwater flux of 0.2 Sv over 300 years was injected into the Norwegian Sea and the Arctic Ocean at a time when proxy evidence suggests vigorous Atlantic meridional overturning circulation. Our reconstruction shows that massive marine-based ice sheets can collapse in as little as 300–500 years.

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Fig. 1: Reconstructed late Pleistocene EIS complex comprised of the Fennoscandian Ice Sheet and the Barents–Svalbard Ice Sheet.
Fig. 2: Records of climate, ice volume and meltwater flux from the EIS complex.

Data availability

The core data used for the Norwegian Sea chronostratigraphic framework and the Normarine18 regional calibration curve are available in Supplementary Data 1 and 2. Original data from previously published records are available at (MD95-2010), (HM79-4/6), (GIK23074-1) and (GIK23074-1). The Dated-1 ice sheet reconstruction is available at

Code availability

The computer code used to generate ice volume estimates is available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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This work is funded by the Research Council of Norway through grants 221999 (to J.B.) and 231259 (to B.H.) and by the Trond Mohn Foundation (to B.H.). J.B. was also supported through the RISES project of the Centre for Climate Dynamics, Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, University of Bergen. Additional support was received from JSPS KAKENHI 17H01168 and 15KK0151 (to Y.Y.). We thank the captain and crew of R/V G.O. Sars for retrieving core GS07-148-17GC. H. Walderhaug provided assistance with the palaeomagnetic analyses. S.Y. Ali, K. Flesland and E.W.N. Støren provided technical support. J.B. and Y.Y. acknowledge PALSEA (a PAGES/INQUA) working group for useful discussions at the 2015 meeting (Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, University of Tokyo, 22–24 July 2015).

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J.B. conceived and designed the study, developed the chronostratigraphy, the deglaciation chronology and the revised ice margin reconstructions, and performed palaeomagnetic analyses. H.H. collected sediment core GS07-148-17GC and performed tephrochronology and geochemical analyses. Y.Y. performed AMS 14C analyses. K.A.H. and J.B. developed the Norwegian Sea 14C reconstruction and ice volume estimates. B.H. performed bioturbation modelling. J.B., B.H. and K.A.H. wrote the paper and all authors contributed to the writing of the final version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jo Brendryen.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Deposition model of the Norwegian Sea core GS07-148-17GC.

a, Deposition model constructed using the P_Sequence option in OxCal70. The dark- and light-coloured bands represent the respective 68.2% and 95.4% credible intervals of the model. The model is made by defining tie-points (diamonds and vertical dashes between (b) and (c)) between the magnetic susceptibility record of core GS07-148-17GC (c) and the δ18O record from Hulu cave (b)24. While the Bølling transition is associated with high sedimentation rates and deposition of plumites closer to the continental shelf edge and the ice sheet grounding line92,100,101, core GS07-148-17GC is located in a more distal setting where the direct influence from sediment-laden meltwater plumes is less likely. The interval with high sedimentation rates centered at about 17.5 kyr cal BP is related to the deposition of a plumite sourced from the Norwegian Channel Ice Stream82,83,84,150,151. Horizontal error bars in b-c represent the 1σ uncertainty of the OxCal-generated deposition model for the respective records. (d), The average of the δ18O record from the Greenland summit ice cores (GISP2 and GRIP aligned on the GICC05 chronology60), which is plotted for reference. The peak occurrence of the Vedde Ash in core GS07-148-17GC and the Greenland ice cores is indicated by the blue line. Note that the Vedde Ash has not been used to constrain the GS07-148-17GC chronology, yet the difference in the Vedde Ash ages is only 10 years. e, The distribution of tephra shards found in core GS07-148-17GC, including rhyolitic (black) and basaltic (red) shards. Arrows mark levels sampled for geochemical analyses of tephra shards (Extended Data Fig. 4).

Extended Data Fig. 2 Magnetic and geochemical parameters from the deglaciation interval in core GS07-148-17GC.

a, Magnetic susceptibility (MS)(red) and Ti/K ratio from Multi-sensor core logging and XRF core scanning (black, 11 point running mean). As found by Ballini et al.72 during the MIS-3 interval, the MS and Ti/K closely co-vary also in the deglacial interval. b, black diamonds are hysteresis parameters from discrete sample measurements on a coercivity spectrometer (corrected for paramagnetic material). From the top: Saturation remanent magnetization (Mrs) and MS (red line). The Mrs and Ms closely track the bulk MS, as found in MIS-372. An S-ratio (S= − IRM−0.3T/IRM0.5T) close to unity for all measured samples suggest that the ferromagnetic minerals are homogeneous and dominated by low coercivity minerals throughout the studied core interval, similar to the MIS-372,73. The field strength necessary to reach saturation remanence is below 300 mT, pointing to magnetite or titanomagnetite as the main ferromagnetic mineral73. Additional thermomagnetic curves from representative MIS-3 samples72,73 imply that the mineral carrying the SE-Norwegian Sea MS signal is low-Ti titanomagnetite. Slightly lower Mrs/Ms ratio in the HS1 interval of core GS07-148-17GC is consistent with the results of Ballini, et al.72 suggesting that the magnetic grain sizes are slightly larger during stadials. The lowermost panel shows the total magnetic susceptibility (gray field, as measured and not corrected for paramagnetic material) at an induced field of 40 mT (M40mT), and the corresponding paramagnetic contribution (black field). The low and relatively constant paramagnetic contribution to the total M demonstrates that the MS signal is driven by the concentration of ferromagnetic minerals. c, Day plot152 showing that the magnetic grain sizes fall in the pseudo-single domain range, consistent with the results of Ballini et al.72 (gray field).

Extended Data Fig. 3 Alternative depositional model of core GS07-148-17GC.

a, comparison of the preferred deposition model (magenta; Extended Data Fig. 1) and our alternative deposition model (cyan). Darker and lighter colour represents the 68.2% and 95.4% credible intervals, respectively. The positions of the Vedde Ash, and the constrained and unconstrained segments of the models are indicated. b, The δ18O record from Hulu cave as in Extended Data Fig. 124. c-d, the MS record of core GS07-148-17GC on the preferred (c, magenta) and alternative (d, blue) deposition model. The horizontal error bars in b,c and d represent the 1σ uncertainty of the OxCal-generated deposition models for the respective records. e, the average of the δ18O records from the Greenland summit ice cores (GISP2 and GRIP aligned on the GICC05 chronology60) plotted for reference. f, the 14C ages of the Norwegian Sea compilation plotted both on our preferred chronology (magenta) and the alternative chronology (blue), the light pink field is the Norwegian Sea 14C reconstruction.

Extended Data Fig. 4 The Vedde ash in core GS07-148-17GC.

a, Bivariate plot of FeO* vs K2O showing the results from all the data presented in the Supplementary data File 1. All data are normalized to a 100% total on a water and volatile-free basis for data set comparison (the Supplementary Data File 1 contains the original non-normalized geochemical data). Total iron is expressed as FeO*. Compositional envelopes (dash lines) show the rhyolitic and basaltic-intermediate components of the Vedde Ash (from Tephrabase: www.tephrabase.org153). b, Scanning electron microscope images of glass shards from interval 32.5-33.0 cm depth in core GS07-148-17GC (B: basaltic glass, R: rhyolitic glass).

Extended Data Fig. 5 Norwegian Sea data records plotted on GS07-148-17GC depth scale.

a, Depth models of cores HM79-4, GIK23074-1 and MD95-2010 constructed using the P_Sequence option in OxCal70. Light-coloured uncertainty envelopes represent the 95.4% quantiles, while darker coloured represent the 68.2% quantiles of the depth model PDF. The models are made by defining tie-point between the cores and core GS07-148-17GC using the records of (b) δ18O44,59,61, (c) δ13C44,59,61, (d) IRD59,61, and (e) magnetic susceptibility59. f, Compiled AMS 14C44,59,61,62. Circles mark the dates that are excluded from further analysis due to distortion of the core stratigraphy from deep burrows (Extended Data Fig. 6). Horizontal error bars in b-f represent the 1σ uncertainty of the depth model for the respective cores.

Extended Data Fig. 6 Trace fossils and burrows between 83 and 117 cm depth in core GS07-148-17GC.

a, Computed tomography radiograph with colour scheme chosen to emphasise trace fossils and burrows. White and light blue colours indicate low-density sediments and cavities, red and yellow colours mark high-density material. b, Photograph of the core surface showing open burrow tubes and cavities, a and b are aligned on the same depth scale. c, Close-up of burrow cavity containing ovoid pellets with the same density as the surrounding sediment. We assume these pellets were made by the burrowing organism.

Extended Data Fig. 7 The effect of bioturbation on the 14C reconstruction at the Bølling transition.

To assess the potential impact of bioturbation, we used the TURBO2 model149 (Methods). As input we used 1,024 simulated abundance vectors (gray; top panel) generated as normally distributed random values centered on the best-fit linear trend and with the standard deviation of the observed abundance of foraminifera in core MD95-221059 (top panel). If we assume a constant mixed layer depth of 6 cm, then the observed change in 14C age can be reproduced with reasonable accuracy in TURBO2 by invoking a hypothetical true 14C age with an abrupt step change 14.56 kyr ago (lower panel). This result is not an attempt to infer the true 14C age history, but rather to demonstrate that the effect of bioturbation would be to smear out the true event. As a consequence, our reconstruction is likely to overestimate the time scale of the EIS collapse and underestimate its contribution to the global MWP-1A.

Extended Data Fig. 8 Bayesian deglacial chronology of the Norwegian continental shelf.

As prior information, all radiocarbon dates or probability density functions of sediment unit boundaries are grouped into phases according to geographical and/or stratigraphical context. A phase in this context refers to a retreat (or advance) of the ice sheet in a specific area. The phases are ordered in a sequence following the relative chronological order. The PDF’s of unmodeled conventional 14C dates are calibrated using the new Norwegian Sea 14C age reconstruction (Fig. 2) and is shown as light gray. Dark gray mark the modeled posteriori PDF of the same dates. Red PDF’s show the posteriori age probabilities of undated events that corresponds to reconstructed ice margins depicted in Fig. 1.

Extended Data Fig. 9 Bayesian deglacial chronology of the Barents-Svalbard ice sheet.

As prior information, all radiocarbon dates or probability density functions of sediment unit boundaries are grouped into phases according to geographical and/or stratigraphical context. A phase in this context refers to a retreat (or advance) of the ice sheet in a specific area. The phases are ordered in a sequence following the relative chronological order. The PDF’s of unmodeled conventional 14C dates are calibrated using the new Norwegian Sea 14C age reconstruction (Fig. 2) and is shown as light gray. Dark gray mark the modeled posteriori PDF of the same dates. Red PDF’s show the posteriori age probabilities of undated events that corresponds to reconstructed ice margins depicted in Fig. 1.

Extended Data Fig. 10 Comparison between area-volume regressions.

a, Regression lines of ice sheet area and volume data used to convert the EIS area reconstruction to volume with the regression of30 trough six extant ice sheets (black) and regression lines (2nd order polynomial fits) through the EIS modeling output from31 (green and purple). FIS, Fennoscandian Ice Sheet; BSIS, Barents Svalbard Ice Sheet. b, Comparison of the EIS volume estimated by the regression of30 and a 2nd order polynomial regression of ice sheet specific area-volume output from a transient model simulation of the growth and decay of the EIS complex of31. c, The corresponding meltwater fluxes. Colour codes are the same as in b.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Data 1

Data records from core GS10-148-07GC, Norwegian Sea 14C date compilation, Normarine18 14C reconstruction, ice sheet reconstruction data.

Supplementary Data 2

Normarine18 Norwegian Sea calibration curve.

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Brendryen, J., Haflidason, H., Yokoyama, Y. et al. Eurasian Ice Sheet collapse was a major source of Meltwater Pulse 1A 14,600 years ago. Nat. Geosci. 13, 363–368 (2020).

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