Novel sedimentological fingerprints link shifting depositional processes to Holocene climate transitions in East Greenland

Willem G.M. van der Bilt, Brice Rea, Matteo Spagnolo, Desiree Roerdink, Steffen Jørgensen, Jostein Bakke

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Abstract The Arctic warms faster than any other region of our planet. Besides melting glaciers, thawing permafrost and decreasing sea-ice, this amplified response affects earth surface processes. This geomorphological expression of climate change may alter landscapes and increase the frequency and magnitude of geohazards like floods or mass-movements. Beyond the short span of sparse monitoring time series, geological archives provide a valuable long-term context for future risk assessment. Lake sediment sequences are particularly promising in this respect as continuous recorders of surface process change. Over the past decade, the emergence of new techniques that characterize depositional signatures in more detail has enhanced this potential. Here, we present a well-dated Holocene-length lake sediment sequence from Ammassalik Island on southeast Greenland. This area is particularly sensitive to regional shifts in the Arctic climate system due to its location near the sea-ice limit, the Greenland Ice Sheet and the convergence of polar and Atlantic waters. The expression of Holocene change is fingerprinted using physical (grain size, organic content, density), visual (3-D Computed Tomography) and geochemical (X-Ray Fluorescence, X-Ray Diffraction) evidence. We show that three sharp transitions characterize the Holocene evolution of Ymer Lake. Between 10 and 9.5 cal. ka BP, rapid local glacier loss from the lake catchment culminated in an outburst flood. Following a quiescent Holocene climatic optimum, Neoglacial cooling, lengthening lake ice cover and shifting wind patterns prompted in-lake avalanching of sediments from 4.2 cal. ka BP onwards. Finally, glaciers reformed in the catchment after 1.2 cal. ka BP. The timing of these shifts is consistent with the regional expression of deglaciation, Neoglacial cooling and Little Ice Age glacier growth, respectively. The novel multi-proxy approach applied in this study rigorously links depositional sediment signatures to surface processes and thereby provides a key step towards a process-based understanding of climate responses.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-64
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal and Planetary Change
Early online date19 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - May 2018

Bibliographical note

This work was supported by an EU-Interact TA grant (GLEESP), the ECONORS fast-track initiative from the Centre for Climate Dynamics (SKD) at the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research and the Research Council of Norway through the Centre for Geobiology (CGB). We thank Torgeir Røthe and Craig Frew for helping retrieve the studied sediment cores, Jordan Donn Holl for helping carry out lab analyses and Tor Einar Møller for his thorough proof-reading. Finally, we acknowledge Stein-Erik Lauritzen and Sverre Aksnes for measuring 210Pb activity on dated sediment samples.


  • Arctic
  • Lake sediments
  • Paleoclimate
  • Glacier change
  • CT scanning


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