News & Events

Grad student talk - Reorganization of ice sheet flow in Arctic Canada before the mid-Pleistocene

Thursday, October 07, 2010, 4:30PM - 5:30PM


Kurt Refsnider



RL-1 269

Full title: "Reorganization of ice sheet flow patterns in Arctic Canada prior to the mid-Pleistocene transition."

The Foxe sector of the Laurentide Ice Sheet (LIS) experienced a complex and dynamic interplay between cold-based, non-erosive ice on uplands, fast-moving outlet glaciers that carved deep fiords through the Arctic Cordillera, and even more erosive ice streams that occupied larger straits and sounds, transporting ice from the Foxe Dome to calving margins in Baffin Bay and the Labrador Sea. The high topography of Baffin Island forms a broad barrier to the flow of ice to these calving margins and gradually has been dissected since the onset of Northern Hemisphere glaciation. However, evidence for the evolution of LIS erosion and basal thermal regime patterns during successive glaciations is poorly preserved in the geologic record. We use a new approach utilizing published till geochemistry and cosmogenic radionuclide (CRN) data to constrain the development of the fiorded coastline and the distribution of cold-based ice across central Baffin Island in both spatial and temporal domains over many glacial-interglacial cycles.

The combination of till geochemistry data, which is used to characterize till weathering, and modeled CRN burial-exposure histories provides strong evidence for a shift in basal thermal regimes across the interior plateaux of Baffin Island between 1.9 and 1.2 Ma. While it may be coincidence that this time interval abuts the onset of the mid-Pleistocene transition (MPT), it has been hypothesized that changes in subglacial conditions were potentially an important mechanism in altering LIS dynamics across the MPT. Prior to this time, ice was likely wet-based and erosive across the majority of the Baffin Island interior, but by 1.9-1.2 Ma, some parts of the landscape became perpetually covered by cold-based ice during glaciations, a pattern that persisted through the last glacial cycle. The modern fiord system also must have developed by this time, and preferential channeling of ice flow into major fiords may have been sufficient to effectively shut off ice flow across the landscape between outlet glaciers. These results imply that there was a major shift in the basal thermal regime across the northeastern LIS, and the subsequent expansion of cold-based ice and the concentration of ice flow in fewer outlet systems across this region may help explain the cause of the mid-Pleistocene transition from 41- to 100-kyr glacial cycles.