North American Ice Sheet build-up during the last glacial cycle, 115-21 kyr

Hernán De Angelis, Krister N. Jansson, Göran Alm, Neil F. Glasser, Clas Hättestrand, Arjen P. Stroeven, Johan Kleman

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132 Citations (SciVal)


The last glacial maximum (LGM) outline and subsequent retreat pattern (21–7 kyr) of North American ice sheets are reasonably well established. However, the evolution of the ice sheets during their build-up phase towards the LGM between 115 and 21 kyr has remained elusive, making it difficult to verify numerical ice sheet models for this important time interval. In this paper we outline the pre-LGM ice sheet evolution of the Laurentide and Cordilleran ice sheets by using glacial geological and geomorphological records to make a first-order reconstruction of ice sheet extent and flow pattern. We mapped the entire area covered by the Laurentide and Cordilleran ice sheets in Landsat MSS images and approximately 40% of this area in higher resolution Landsat ETM+ images. Mapping in aerial photographs added further detail primarily in Quebec-Labrador, the Cordilleran region, and on Baffin Island. Our analysis includes the recognition of approximately 500 relative-age relationships from crosscutting lineations. Together with previously published striae and till fabric data, these are used as the basis for relative-age assignments of regional flow patterns. For the reconstruction of the most probable ice sheet evolution sequence we employ a stepwise inversion scheme with a clearly defined strategy for delineating coherent landforms swarms (reflecting flow direction and configuration), and linking these to previously published constraints on relative and absolute chronology. Our results reveal that ice-dispersal centres in Keewatin and Quebec were dynamically independent for most of pre-LGM time and that a massive Quebec dispersal centre, rivalling the LGM in extent, existed at times when the SW sector of the ice sheet had not yet developed. The oldest flow system in eastern Quebec-Labrador (Atlantic swarm had an ice divide closer to the Labrador coast than later configurations). A northern Keewatin-Central Arctic Ice Sheet existed prior to the LGM, but is poorly chronologically constrained. There is also evidence for older and more easterly Cordilleran Ice Sheet divide locations than those that prevailed during the Late Wisconsinan. In terms of ice sheet build-up dynamics, it appears that “residual” ice caps after warming phases may have played an important role. In particular, the location and size of remnant ice masses at the end of major interstadials, i.e. OIS 5c and 5a, must have been critical for subsequent build-up patterns, because such remnant “uplands” may have fostered much more rapid ice sheet growth than what would have occurred on a fully deglaciated terrain. The ice-sheet configuration during stadials would also be governed largely by the additional topography that such “residual” ice constitutes because of inherent mass balance–topography feedbacks.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2036-2051
Number of pages16
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Issue number17-18
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2010


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