Preservation of a Preglacial Landscape Under the Center of the Greenland Ice Sheet

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Science  25 Apr 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6182, pp. 402-405
DOI: 10.1126/science.1249047

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Geologists usually consider glaciers and ice sheets to be gigantic abrasives, scouring the ground beneath them and carving out relief on the underlying landscapes. Bierman et al. (p. 402, published online 17 April) show that this is not always the case. They found that the silt at the very bottom of the Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2 core contained significant amounts of beryllium-10, an isotope produced in the atmosphere by cosmic rays and which adheres to soils when it is deposited on them. Hence, the dust at the bottom of the ice sheet indicates the persistence of a landscape under 3000 meters of glacial ice that is millions of years old.


Continental ice sheets typically sculpt landscapes via erosion; under certain conditions, ancient landscapes can be preserved beneath ice and can survive extensive and repeated glaciation. We used concentrations of atmospherically produced cosmogenic beryllium-10, carbon, and nitrogen to show that ancient soil has been preserved in basal ice for millions of years at the center of the ice sheet at Summit, Greenland. This finding suggests ice sheet stability through the Pleistocene (i.e., the past 2.7 million years). The preservation of this soil implies that the ice has been nonerosive and frozen to the bed for much of that time, that there was no substantial exposure of central Greenland once the ice sheet became fully established, and that preglacial landscapes can remain preserved for long periods under continental ice sheets.

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