Research Press Release

Geoscience: Partial Eurasian ice sheet collapse may have led to rapid sea level rise

Nature Geoscience

April 21, 2020

Portions of the Eurasian Ice Sheet collapsed around 14,650 years ago, and substantially contributed to a 12- to 14-metre global sea-level rise in fewer than 400 years, according to a paper published in Nature Geoscience.

The Last Glacial Maximum was a period in Earth’s history that began around 33,000 years ago and was characterized by low global temperatures and vast ice sheets that covered much of the Northern Hemisphere. During this period the Eurasian Ice Sheet’s maximum ice volume was approximately three times greater than that of the modern-day Greenland Ice Sheet. It was the third-largest ice sheet at that time. However, much of the Eurasian Ice Sheet was thought to have melted too early to contribute to the rapid sea-level rise some 14,600 years ago, known as the Meltwater Pulse 1A event, that coincided with a period of abrupt climate warming.

Jo Brendryen and colleagues analysed the timing of these events based on age data of sediment cores from the Norwegian Sea. The detailed age reconstruction showed that the melting of part of the Eurasian Ice Sheet — which is comparable in size to the modern West Antarctic Ice Sheet — was coincident with the Meltwater Pulse 1A event, and that the ice-sheet collapse was fast, occurring over a period of less than 500 years. The authors suggest that this later melting of the Eurasian Ice Sheet may have contributed 20–60% of the rapid 12- to 14-metre global sea-level rise.

These findings may provide a better understanding of the vulnerability of modern ice sheets to such rapid collapse today.

doi:10.1038/s41561-020-0567-4

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