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

J. A. Smith, L. Callard, M. J. Bentley, S. S. R. Jamieson, M. L. Sánchez-Montes, T. P. Lane, J. M. Lloyd, E. L. McClymont, C. M. Darvill, B. R. Rea, C. O'Cofaigh, P. Gulliver, W. Ehrmann, R. S. Jones, David H. Roberts

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Nioghalvfjerdsbrae, or 79∘ N Glacier, is the largest marine-terminating glacier draining the Northeast Greenland Ice Stream (NEGIS). In recent years, its ∼ 70 km long fringing ice shelf (hereafter referred to as the 79∘ N ice shelf) has thinned, and a number of small calving events highlight its sensitivity to climate warming. With the continued retreat of the 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 the 79∘ N ice shelf by combining radiocarbon dating of marine molluscs from isostatically uplifted glaciomarine 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 ka cal BP, which is consistent with previous work charting grounding line and ice shelf retreat to the coast as well as 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 ka cal BP, reaching a thickness similar to present by 4.0 ka cal BP. Reformation of the ice shelf coincides with decreasing atmospheric temperatures, the increased dominance of Polar Water, a reduction in Atlantic Water, and (near-)perennial sea-ice cover on the adjacent continental shelf. Along with available climate archives, our data indicate that the 79∘ N ice shelf is susceptible to collapse at mean atmospheric and ocean temperatures ∼ 2 ∘C warmer than present, which could be achieved by the middle of this century under some emission 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 - 15 Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

This work was funded by a NERC standard grant (grant no. NE/N011228/1), and some radiocarbon analysis was funded by NEIF (grant NE/S011587/1; allocation number 2169.1118). We thank the Alfred Wegener Institute, particularly Angelika Humbert and Hicham Rafiq, for significant logistic support through the iGRIFF project. Additional support was provided by Station Nord (Jorgen Skafte), Nordlandair, 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 (Nanu Travel) field ranger Isak (and dog Ooni) for keeping us safe in the field and taking great pleasure in beating James A. Smith at cards.

Financial support
This research has been supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (grant no. NE/N011228/1).

Data Availability Statement

Data availability
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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