NSF-NERC: Geological History Constraints on the Magnitude of Grounding Line Retreat in the Thwaites Glacier System
This project contributes to the joint initiative launched by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.K. Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to substantially improve decadal and longer-term projections of ice loss and sea-level rise originating from Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica. The Thwaites Glacier system dominates the contribution to sea-level rise from Antarctica. Predicting how this system will evolve in coming decades, and thereby its likely contribution to sea level, requires detailed understanding of how it has responded to changes in climate and oceanographic conditions in the past. This project will provide a record of regional sea-level change by establishing chronologies for raised marine beaches as well as the timing and duration of periods of retreat of Thwaites Glacier during the past 10,000 years by sampling and dating bedrock presently covered by Thwaites Glacier via subglacial drilling. Together with climatic and oceanographic conditions from other records, these will provide boundary conditions for past-to-present model simulations as well as those used to predict future glacier changes under a range of climate scenarios. Specifically, the project will test the hypothesis--implied by existing geological evidence from the region--that present rapid retreat of the Thwaites Glacier system is reversible. The team aims to utilize two approaches: 1. To reconstruct relative sea level during the Holocene, it will map and date raised marine and shoreline deposits throughout Pine Island Bay. Chronological constraints on sea-level change will be provided by radiocarbon dating of organic material in landforms and sediments that are genetically related to past sea level, such as shell fragments, bones of marine fauna, and penguin guano. 2. To obtain geological evidence for past episodes of grounding-line retreat, the team will apply cosmogenic-nuclide exposure-dating of subglacial bedrock. Using drill systems recently developed for subglacial bedrock recovery, the team will obtain subglacial bedrock from sites where ice thickness is dynamically linked to grounding-line position in the Thwaites system (specifically in the Hudson Mountains, and near Mount Murphy). Observation of significant cosmogenic-nuclide concentrations--the team will primarily measure Beryllium-10 and in situ Carbon-14--in these samples would provide direct, unambiguous evidence for past episodes of thinning linked to grounding-line retreat as well as constraints on their timing and duration.
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