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The Younger Dryas and the Sea of Ancient Ice

  • Raymond S. Bradley (a1) and John H. England (a2)

We propose that prior to the Younger Dryas period, the Arctic Ocean supported extremely thick multi-year fast ice overlain by superimposed ice and firn. We re-introduce the historical term paleocrystic ice to describe this. The ice was independent of continental (glacier) ice and formed a massive floating body trapped within the almost closed Arctic Basin, when sea-level was lower during the last glacial maximum. As sea-level rose and the Barents Sea Shelf became deglaciated, the volume of warm Atlantic water entering the Arctic Ocean increased, as did the corresponding egress, driving the paleocrystic ice towards Fram Strait. New evidence shows that Bering Strait was resubmerged around the same time, providing further dynamical forcing of the ice as the Transpolar Drift became established. Additional freshwater entered the Arctic Basin from Siberia and North America, from proglacial lakes and meltwater derived from the Laurentide Ice Sheet. Collectively, these forces drove large volumes of thick paleocrystic ice and relatively fresh water from the Arctic Ocean into the Greenland Sea, shutting down deepwater formation and creating conditions conducive for extensive sea-ice to form and persist as far south as 60°N. We propose that the forcing responsible for the Younger Dryas cold episode was thus the result of extremely thick sea-ice being driven from the Arctic Ocean, dampening or shutting off the thermohaline circulation, as sea-level rose and Atlantic and Pacific waters entered the Arctic Basin. This hypothesis focuses attention on the potential role of Arctic sea-ice in causing the Younger Dryas episode, but does not preclude other factors that may also have played a role.

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*Corresponding author. Fax: +1 413 545 1200. E-mail addresses: (R.S. Bradley), (J.H. England).
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