Collaborative Research: Potential Direct Geologic Constraint of Ice Sheet Thickness in the Central Transantarctic Mountains during the Pliocene Warm Period
This investigation will reconstruct past behavior of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet during periods of warmer-than-present climate, such as the Pliocene, in order to better project the likely response of Earth's largest ice sheet to anthropogenic warming. Containing the equivalent of ~55 m sea-level rise, the future evolution of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet has clear societal ramifications on a global scale as temperatures continue to rise. Therefore, determining ice-sheet sensitivity to climate on the scale predicted for the next two centuries is a matter of increasing urgency, particularly in light of evidence suggesting the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is more dynamic than previously thought. This research will provide a terrestrial geologic record of long-term ice-sheet behavior from sites immediately adjacent the East Antarctic Ice Sheet in the Transantarctic Mountains, with which the project will help ascertain how the ice sheet responded to past warm periods. The project will focus primarily on the Pliocene warm period, 5 to 3 million years ago, as this represents the closest analogue to 21st Century climate conditions.
The proposed research will investigate glacial deposits corresponding to the East Antarctic Ice Sheet in the central Transantarctic Mountains in order to expand the geologic record of past ice-sheet behavior. The overarching research objectives are to improve understanding of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet's configuration during periods of warmer-than-present climate, such as the Pliocene warm period, and to determine whether the ice sheet underwent significant volume changes or remained relatively stable in response to warming. To address these goals, the investigation will map and date glacial deposits preserved at mountain sites immediately adjacent the ice sheet. Specifically, we will: (i) employ multiple cosmogenic nuclides (10Be, 26Al, 21Ne) to establish more fully ice-thickness histories for the upper Shackleton and Beardmore Glaciers, where they exit the ice sheet; (ii) use this record to identify periods during which the East Antarctic Ice Sheet was at least as extensive as today; and (iii) use these data to assess long-term ice-sheet variability in East Antarctica, with particular emphasis on Pliocene warm episodes. This research will require Antarctic fieldwork, glacial-geologic mapping, and cosmogenic surface-exposure dating.
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