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Greenland Ice Sheet History Since the Last Glaciation1

  • Norman W. Ten Brink (a1) and Anker Weidick (a2)


The position of the Inland Ice margin during the late Wisconsin-Würm glaciation (ca. 15,000 yr BP) is probably marked by offshore banks (submarine moraines?) in the Davis Strait. The history of the Inland Ice since the late Wisconsin-Würm can be divided into four principal phases: (1) Relatively slow retreat from the offshore banks occurred at an average rate of approximately 1 km/100 yr until ca. 10,000 yr BP (Younger Dryas?) when the Taserqat moraine system was formed by a readvance. (2) At ca. 9500 yr BP, the rate of retreat increased markedly to about 3 km/100 yr, and although nearly 100 km of retreat occurred by ca. 6500 yr BP, it was punctuated by frequent regional reexpansions of the Inland Ice that formed extensive moraine systems at ca. 8800-8700 yr BP (Avatdleq-Sarfartôq moraines), 8400-8100 yr BP (Angujârtorfik-Fjord moraines), 7300 yr BP (Umîvît moraines), and 7200-6500 yr BP (Keglen-Mt, Keglen moraines). (3) Between 6500 and 700 yr BP, discontinous ice-margin deposits and ice-disintegration features were formed during retreat, which may have continued until the ice margin was near or behind its present position by ca. 6000 yr BP. Most of the discontinuous ice-margin deposits occur within 5–10 km of the present ice margin, and may have been formed by two main phases of readvance at ca. 4800-4000 yr BP and 2500-2000 yr BP. (4) Since a readvance at ca. 700 yr BP, the Inland Ice margin has undergone several minor retreats and readvances resulting in deposition of numerous closely spaced moraines within about 3 km of the present ice margin. The young moraines are difficult to correlate regionally, but several individual moraines have the following approximate ages: A.D. 1650, 1750, and 1880–1920.

Inland Ice fluctuations in West Greenland were very closely paralleled by Holocene glacial events in East Greenland and the eastern Canadian Arctic. Such similarity of glacier behavior over a large area strongly suggests that widespread climatic change was the direct cause of Holocene glacial fluctuations. Moreover, historical advances of the Inland Ice margin followed slight temperature decreases by no more than a few decades, and 18O data from Greenland ice cores show that slight temperature decreases occurred frequently throughout the Holocene. Therefore, we conclude that construction of the major Holocene moraine systems in West Greenland was caused by slight temperature decreases, which decreased rates of ablation and thereby produced practically immediate advances of the ice sheet margin, but did not necessarily affect the long-term equilibrium of the ice sheet.



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Contribution No. 271 of the Institute Polar Studies, The Ohio State University. Published with the permission of the Director of the the Geological Survey of Geological Survey of Greenland, Copenhagen.



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