Holocene thinning of the Greenland ice sheet

Nature. 2009 Sep 17;461(7262):385-8. doi: 10.1038/nature08355.


On entering an era of global warming, the stability of the Greenland ice sheet (GIS) is an important concern, especially in the light of new evidence of rapidly changing flow and melt conditions at the GIS margins. Studying the response of the GIS to past climatic change may help to advance our understanding of GIS dynamics. The previous interpretation of evidence from stable isotopes (delta(18)O) in water from GIS ice cores was that Holocene climate variability on the GIS differed spatially and that a consistent Holocene climate optimum-the unusually warm period from about 9,000 to 6,000 years ago found in many northern-latitude palaeoclimate records-did not exist. Here we extract both the Greenland Holocene temperature history and the evolution of GIS surface elevation at four GIS locations. We achieve this by comparing delta(18)O from GIS ice cores with delta(18)O from ice cores from small marginal icecaps. Contrary to the earlier interpretation of delta(18)O evidence from ice cores, our new temperature history reveals a pronounced Holocene climatic optimum in Greenland coinciding with maximum thinning near the GIS margins. Our delta(18)O-based results are corroborated by the air content of ice cores, a proxy for surface elevation. State-of-the-art ice sheet models are generally found to be underestimating the extent and changes in GIS elevation and area; our findings may help to improve the ability of models to reproduce the GIS response to Holocene climate.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Altitude
  • Greenhouse Effect*
  • Greenland
  • History, Ancient
  • Ice Cover*
  • Oxygen / analysis
  • Oxygen Isotopes
  • Temperature


  • Oxygen Isotopes
  • Oxygen