Holocene history of 79°N ice shelf reconstructed from epishelf lake and uplifted glacimarine sediments

James A. Smith* (Corresponding Author), Louise Callard, Michael J. Bentley, Stewart S.R. Jamieson, Maria Luisa Sánchez Montes, Timothy P. Lane, Jeremy M. Lloyd, Erin L. McClymont, Christopher M. Darvill, Brice Rea, Colm Cofaigh, Pauline Gulliver, Werner Ehrmann, Richard Jones, David H. Roberts

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Nioghalvfjerdsbrae, or 79°N Glacier, is the largest marine-terminating glacier draining Northeast Greenland Ice Stream (NEGIS). In recent years, it’s ~70km-long fringing ice shelf (hereafter referred to as 79°N ice shelf) has thinned, and a number of small calving events highlight its sensitivity to climate warming. With the continued retreat of 79°N ice shelf and the potential for accelerated discharge from NEGIS, which drains 16% of the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS), it has become increasingly important to understand the long-term history of the
ice shelf in order to put the recent changes into perspective and to judge their long-term significance. Here we reconstruct the Holocene dynamics of 79°N ice shelf by combining radiocarbon dating of marine mollusc from isostatically uplifted glacimarine sediments with a multi-proxy investigation of two sediment cores recovered from Blåsø, a large epishelf lake 2-13 km from the current grounding line of 79°N Glacier. Our reconstructions suggest that the ice shelf retreated between 8.5 and 4.4 cal. ka. BP, which is consistent with previous work charting grounding line and ice shelf retreat to the coast, and open marine conditions in Nioghalvfjerdsbrae. Ice shelf retreat followed a period of enhanced atmospheric and ocean warming in the Early Holocene. Based on our detailed sedimentological, microfaunal and biomarker evidence the ice shelf reformed at Blåsø after 4.4 cal. ka BP, reaching a thickness similar to present by 4.0 cal. ka BP. Reformation of the ice shelf coincides with decreasing atmospheric temperatures, increased dominance of Polar Water, a reduction in Atlantic Water and (near) perennial sea-ice cover on the adjacent continental shelf. Together with available climate archives our data indicate that 79°N ice shelf is susceptible to collapse when mean atmospheric and ocean temperatures are ~2°C warmer than present, which could be achieved by the middle of this century under some emissions scenarios. Finally, the presence of ‘marine’ markers in the uppermost part of the Blåsø sediment cores could record modern ice shelf thinning, although the significance and precise timing of these changes requires further work.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1247-1270
Number of pages24
JournalThe Cryosphere
Issue number3
Early online date15 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

This work was funded by NERC Standard Grant NE/N011228/1 and some radiocarbon analysis funded by NEIF under grant NE/S011587/1 (allocation number 2169.1118). We thank the Alfred Wegner Institute, and particularly Angelika Humbert and Hicham Rafiq, for their significant logistic support through the iGRIFF project. Additional support was provided from Station Nord (Jorgen Skafte), Nordland Air, Air Greenland and the Joint Arctic Command. Naalakkersuisut, Government of Greenland, provided Scientific Survey (VU-00121) and Export (046/2017) licences for this work. Finally, we would like to thank our Field Ranger Isak (Nanu-Travel) and dog Ooni for keeping us safe in the field and taking great pleasure in beating JAS at cards.

Data Availability Statement

Chronological and sedimentological data for cores LC7 and LC12 from Blåsø (Smith et al., 2022) are available from the UK NERC Polar Data Centre (https://doi.org/10.5285/e44bbc45-9924-401b-a7b8-7939fbb61db2, Smith et al., 2022).


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