EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Sensitivity of Heinrich-type ice sheet surges and their implications for the last deglaciation

Clemens Schannwell1, Uwe Mikolajewicz1, Florian Ziemen2, and Marie-Luise Kapsch1
Clemens Schannwell et al.
  • 1Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Germany (
  • 2Deutsches Klimarechenzentrum (DKRZ), Germany

Transitions from a stable, periodically oscillating ice-sheet system to a perpetual ice stream has potentially far-reaching implications for the timing of the onset of the last deglaciation as well as for climate transitions such as the Younger Dryas. These periodical ice-sheet oscillations known as Heinrich-type ice sheet surges are among the most dominant signals of glacial climate variability. They are quasi-periodic events during which large amounts of ice are discharged from ice sheets into the ocean. The addition of freshwater strongly affects the ocean circulation, resulting in a pronounced cooling in the North Atlantic region. In addition, changes in the ice sheet geometry also have significant effects on the climate. Here, we use a coupled ice sheet-solid earth model that is driven with forcing from a comprehensive Earth System Model that includes interactive ice sheets to identify key drivers controlling the surge cycle length of Heinrich-type ice-sheet surges from two main outlet glaciers of the Laurentide ice sheet. Our simulations show different surge initiation behaviour for the land-terminating Mackenzie ice stream and marine-terminating Hudson ice stream. For both ice streams, the surface mass balance has the largest effect on the surge cycle length. Ice surface temperature and geothermal heat flux also influence the surge cycle length, but to a lesser degree. Ocean forcing and different frequencies of the same forcing have a negligible effect on the surge cycle length. The simulations also highlight that a certain parameter space exists under which stable surge oscillations can be maintained. This parameter range is much narrower for the Mackenzie ice stream than for the Hudson ice stream. Leaving the stable regime results in a dynamical switch that turns the system from periodically oscillating system into a perpetual ice stream system. This transition can lead to a volume loss of up to 36% for the respective ice stream drainage basin under otherwise glacial climate conditions.

How to cite: Schannwell, C., Mikolajewicz, U., Ziemen, F., and Kapsch, M.-L.: Sensitivity of Heinrich-type ice sheet surges and their implications for the last deglaciation, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-6242,, 2022.

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