Collaborative Research: Late Quaternary History of Reedy Glacier
The stability of the marine West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) remains an important, unresolved problem for predicting future sea level change. Recent studies indicate that the mass balance of the ice sheet today may be negative or positive. The apparent differences may stem in part from short-term fluctuations in flow. By comparison, geologic observations provide evidence of behavior over much longer time scales. Recent work involving glacial-geologic mapping, dating and ice-penetrating radar surveys suggests that deglaciation of both the Ross Sea Embayment and coastal Marie Byrd Land continued into the late Holocene, and leaves open the possibility of ongoing deglaciation and grounding-line retreat. However, previous work in the Ross Sea Embayment was based on data from just three locations that are all far to the north of the present grounding line. Additional data from farther south in the Ross Sea Embayment are needed to investigate whether recession has ended, or if the rate and pattern of deglaciation inferred from our previous study still apply to the present grounding line. This award provides support to reconstruct the evolution of Reedy Glacier, in the southern Transantarctic Mountains, since the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). Because Reedy Glacier emerges from the mountains above the grounding line, its surface slope and elevation should record changes in thickness of grounded ice in the Ross Sea up to the present day. The deglaciation chronology of Reedy Glacier therefore can indicate whether Holocene retreat of the WAIS ended thousands of years ago, or is still continuing at present. This integrated glaciologic, glacial-geologic, and cosmogenic-isotope exposure- dating project will reconstruct past levels of Reedy Glacier. Over two field seasons, moraines will be mapped, dated and correlated at sites along the length of the glacier. Radar and GPS measurements will be made to supplement existing ice thickness and velocity data, which are needed as input for a model of glacier dynamics. The model will be used to relate geologic measurements to the grounding-line position downstream. Ultimately, the mapping, dating and ice-modeling components of the study will be integrated into a reconstruction that defines changes in ice thickness in the southern Ross Sea since the LGM, and relates these changes to the history of grounding-line retreat. This work directly addresses key goals of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Initiative, which are to understand the dynamics, recent history and possible future behavior of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.
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