Antarctic glacial history from numerical models and continental margin sediments

The climate record of glacially transported sediments in prograded wedges around the Antarctic outer continental shelf, and their derivatives in continental rise drifts, may be combined to produce an Antarctic ice sheet history, using numerical models of ice sheet response to temperature and sea-level change. Examination of published models suggests several preliminary conclusions about ice sheet history. The ice sheet's present high sensitivity to sea-level change at short (orbital) periods was developed gradually as its size increased, replacing a declining sensitivity to temperature. Models suggest that the ice sheet grew abruptly to 40% (or possibly more) of its present size at the Eocene–Oligocene boundary, mainly as a result of its own temperature sensitivity. A large but more gradual middle Miocene change was externally driven, probably by development of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) and Polar Front, provided that a few million years' delay can be explained. The Oligocene ice sheet varied considerably in size and areal extent, but the late Miocene ice sheet was more stable, though significantly warmer than today's. This difference probably relates to the confining effect of the Antarctic continental margin. Present-day numerical models of ice sheet development are sufficient to guide current sampling plans, but sea-ice formation, polar wander, basal topography and ice streaming can be identified as factors meriting additional modelling effort in the future.


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Authors: Barker, Peter F., Barrett, Peter J., Cooper, Alan K., Huybrechts, Philippe

1 January, 1999
Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology / 150
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