PNAS: Widespread collapse of the Ross Ice Shelf during the late Holocene

Widespread collapse of the Ross Ice Shelf during the late Holocene

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 113 no. 9, 2354–2359, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1516908113

Yusuke Yokoyama*, John B. Anderson, Masako Yamane, Lauren M. Simkins, Yosuke Miyairi, Takahiro Yamazaki, Mamito Koizumi, Hisami Suga, Kazuya Kusahara, Lindsay Prothro, Hiroyasu Hasumi, John R. Southon, and Naohiko Ohkouchi


The stability of modern ice shelves is threatened by atmospheric and oceanic warming. The geologic record of formerly glaciated continental shelves provides a window into the past of how ice shelves responded to a warming climate. Fields of deep (−560 m), linear iceberg furrows on the outer, western Ross Sea continental shelf record an early post-Last Glacial Maximum episode of ice-shelf collapse that was followed by continuous retreat of the grounding line for ∼200 km. Runaway grounding line conditions culminated once the ice became pinned on shallow banks in the western Ross Sea. This early episode of ice-shelf collapse is not observed in the eastern Ross Sea, where more episodic grounding line retreat took place. More widespread (∼280,000 km2) retreat of the ancestral Ross Ice Shelf occurred during the late Holocene. This event is recorded in sediment cores by a shift from terrigenous glacimarine mud to diatomaceous open-marine sediment as well as an increase in radiogenic beryllium (10Be) concentrations. The timing of ice-shelf breakup is constrained by compound specific radiocarbon ages, the first application of this technique systematically applied to Antarctic marine sediments. Breakup initiated around 5 ka, with the ice shelf reaching its current configuration ∼1.5 ka. In the eastern Ross Sea, the ice shelf retreated up to 100 km in about a thousand years. Three-dimensional thermodynamic ice-shelf/ocean modeling results and comparison with ice-core records indicate that ice-shelf breakup resulted from combined atmospheric warming and warm ocean currents impinging onto the continental shelf.

*Weiss Visiting Professor, 2015

Link to article in PNAS


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