PerspectiveGeology

Tracking the rapid pace of a retreating ice sheet

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Science  29 May 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6494, pp. 939-940
DOI: 10.1126/science.abc3583

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Summary

Glaciers and ice sheets that extended from land into the ocean left traces behind on the seafloor called submarine glacial landforms. If mapped in sufficient detail and interpreted correctly, they can provide comprehensive information into past behaviors of glaciers and ice sheets. On page 1020 of this issue, Dowdeswell et al. (1) describe the mapping of glacial landforms in the seafloor created by a rapidly retreating ice sheet on the eastern Antarctic Peninsula. The high-resolution data suggest that the retreat rate was paced by ocean tides and at least an order of magnitude faster than modern rates observed in other sensitive areas, such as West Antarctica where the ice sheet drains into the ocean at several locations (2). The retreat on the eastern Antarctic Peninsula took place more than 10,000 years ago, pointing out the challenges in predicting the sea-level rise contribution from retreating glaciers and ice sheets in a warming climate.

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