Cordilleran Ice Sheet mass loss preceded climate reversals near the Pleistocene Termination

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Science  10 Nov 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6364, pp. 781-784
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan3001

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Disappearance of an ice sheet

The Cordilleran Ice Sheet is thought to have covered westernmost Canada until about 13,000 years ago, even though the warming and sea level rise of the last deglaciation had begun more than a thousand years earlier. This out-of-phase behavior has puzzled glaciologists because it is not clear what mechanisms could account for it. Menounos et al. report measurements of the ages of cirque and valley glaciers that show that much of western Canada was ice-free as early as 14,000 years ago—a finding that better agrees with the record of global ice volume (see the Perspective by Marcott and Shakun). Previous reconstructions seem not to have adequately reflected the complexity of ice sheet decay.

Science, this issue p. 781; see also p. 721


The Cordilleran Ice Sheet (CIS) once covered an area comparable to that of Greenland. Previous geologic evidence and numerical models indicate that the ice sheet covered much of westernmost Canada as late as 12.5 thousand years ago (ka). New data indicate that substantial areas throughout westernmost Canada were ice free prior to 12.5 ka and some as early as 14.0 ka, with implications for climate dynamics and the timing of meltwater discharge to the Pacific and Arctic oceans. Early Bølling-Allerød warmth halved the mass of the CIS in as little as 500 years, causing 2.5 to 3.0 meters of sea-level rise. Dozens of cirque and valley glaciers, along with the southern margin of the CIS, advanced into recently deglaciated regions during the Bølling-Allerød and Younger Dryas.

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