EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Sensitivity of Heinrich events to boundary forcing perturbations in a coupled ice sheet-solid Earth model

Clemens Schannwell1, Uwe Mikolajewicz1, Marie Kapsch, and Florian Ziemen2
Clemens Schannwell et al.
  • 1Max Planck Institute for Meterology, Ocean Physics, Germany (
  • 2Deutsches Klimarechenzentrum, Germany

Heinrich events are one of the prominent signals of glacial climate variability. They are characterised as abrupt, quasi-periodic episodes of ice-sheet instabilities during which large numbers of icebergs are released from the Laurentide ice sheet. These events affect the evolution of the global climate by modifying the ocean circulation through the addition of freshwater and the atmospheric circulation through changes in ice-sheet height. However, the mechanisms controlling the timing and occurrence of Heinrich events remain enigmatic to this day. Here, we present simulations with a coupled ice-sheet solid Earth model that aim to quantify the importance of different boundary forcings for the timing of Heinrich events. We focus the analysis on two prominent ice streams of the Laurentide ice sheet with the land-terminating Mackenzie ice stream and the marine-terminating Hudson ice stream. Our simulations identify different surge characteristics for the Mackenzie ice stream and the Hudson ice stream. Despite their different glaciological and climatic settings, both ice streams exhibit responses of similar magnitude to perturbations to the surface mass balance and the geothermal heat flux. However, Mackenzie ice stream is more sensitive to changes in the surface temperature. Changes to the ocean temperature and the global sea level have a negligible effect on the timing of Heinrich events in our simulations for both ice streams. We also show that Heinrich events for both ice streams only occur in a certain parameter space. Transitioning from an oscillatory Heinrich event state to a persistent streaming state can lead to an ice volume loss of up to 30%. Mackenzie ice stream is situated in a climate that is particularly close to this transition point, underlining the potential of the ice stream to have contributed to prominent abrupt climate events during glacial-interglacial transitions.

How to cite: Schannwell, C., Mikolajewicz, U., Kapsch, M., and Ziemen, F.: Sensitivity of Heinrich events to boundary forcing perturbations in a coupled ice sheet-solid Earth model, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-8853,, 2023.