Holocene deceleration of the Greenland Ice Sheet

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Science  05 Feb 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6273, pp. 590-593
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab1702

Keeping a stiff upper layer

The interior of the Greenland Ice Sheet is growing thicker, in contrast to the thinning that is occurring at its edges. Why? MacGregor et al. conclude that more snow is accumulating and that the ice in the interior is flowing more slowly than it did thousands of years ago (see the Perspective by Hvidberg). During the last glacial period, higher rates of atmospheric dust deposition produced softer ice, which flowed more readily than cleaner ice. During most of the Holocene, though, atmospheric dust concentrations were lower, and the less-dusty ice that formed was stiffer, meaning it did not flow or thin so rapidly. Thus, the thickening seen today in the central regions of Greenland is partly a response to changes in ice rheology that occurred thousands of years ago.

Science, this issue p. 590; see also p. 562


Recent peripheral thinning of the Greenland Ice Sheet is partly offset by interior thickening and is overprinted on its poorly constrained Holocene evolution. On the basis of the ice sheet’s radiostratigraphy, ice flow in its interior is slower now than the average speed over the past nine millennia. Generally higher Holocene accumulation rates relative to modern estimates can only partially explain this millennial-scale deceleration. The ice sheet’s dynamic response to the decreasing proportion of softer ice from the last glacial period and the deglacial collapse of the ice bridge across Nares Strait also contributed to this pattern. Thus, recent interior thickening of the Greenland Ice Sheet is partly an ongoing dynamic response to the last deglaciation that is large enough to affect interpretation of its mass balance from altimetry.

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