Geology

Ice Shelf Retreat

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Science  07 Sep 2001:
Vol. 293, Issue 5536, pp. 1731
DOI: 10.1126/science.293.5536.1731a

Several small ice shelves around the Antarctic Peninsula retreated during the late 20th century due to regional climate warming. Did similar retreats occur through natural climate variability during the past 10,000 years.

Pudsey and Evans have now addressed this question by studying the history of the Prince Gustav Channel ice shelf. During periods when the shelf had retreated and the channel was open for at least part of the year, ice-rafted debris from icebergs would be deposited in the sediment at the bottom of the channel. Such debris was found in sediment cores from the channel that were between about 5000 and 2000 years old. Before and after this period, the channel remained closed. The period when the channel was open coincides with a period of local warming. With the return of colder conditions about 1900 years ago, the Prince Gustav ice shelf reformed until its recent retreat. Thus, ice shelves are sensitive indicators of regional climatic change, and recent warming is exceptional for at least the past 1900 years. — JU

Geology29, 987 (2001).

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