A large West Antarctic Ice Sheet explains early Neogene sea-level amplitude.

Early to Middle Miocene sea-level oscillations of approximately 40-60 m estimated from far-field records(1-3) are interpreted to reflect the loss of virtually all East Antarctic ice during peak warmth(2). This contrasts with ice-sheet model experiments suggesting most terrestrial ice in East Antarctica was retained even during the warmest intervals of the Middle Miocene(4,5). Data and model outputs can be reconciled if a large West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) existed and expanded across most of the outer continental shelf during the Early Miocene, accounting for maximum ice-sheet volumes. Here weprovide the earliest geological evidence proving large WAIS expansions occurred during the Early Miocene (similar to 17.72-17.40 Ma). Geochemical and petrographic data show glacimarine sediments recovered at International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Site U1521 in the central Ross Sea derive from West Antarctica, requiring the presence of a WAIS covering most of the Ross Sea continental shelf. Seismic, lithological and palynological data reveal the intermittent proximity of grounded ice to Site U1521. The erosion rate calculated from this sediment package greatly exceeds the long-term mean, implying rapid erosion of West Antarctica. This interval therefore captures akey step in the genesis of a marine-based WAIS and a tipping point in Antarctic ice-sheet evolution.


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Authors: Marschalek, J.W., Zurli, L., Talarico, F., van de Flierdt, T., Vermeesch, P., Carter, A., Beny, F., Bout-Roumazeilles, V., Sangiorgi, F., Hemming, S., Perez, L.F. ORCIDORCID record for L.F. Perez, Colleoni, F., Hillenbrand, C-D. ORCIDORCID record for C-D. Hillenbrand, Gasson, E., Siegert, M.J., Van Peer, T.E., Licht, K., Browne, I., Shevenell, A., Harwood, D., Keisling, B., Levy, R., Kuhn, G., Kulhanek, D.K., Perotti, M., Dodd, J., Boshuis, C., De Santis, L., McKay, R.M.

On this site: Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand, Lara Perez
16 December, 2021
Nature / 600
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