Durham University

Department of Geography: Quaternary Environmental Change (QEC)

Greenland Research

The dynamics of the Greenland Ice Sheet and its role in global environmental change


The Greenland Ice Sheet (GIS) is a major scientific focus for research undertaken in the Quaternary Environmental Change Research Group at Durham University, with colleagues working on several related themes as summarised below. For further project details, refer to individual project pages via the highlighted links. A composite list of Greenland publications arising from our work is also provided.

  • Reconstructing ice sheet history from terrestrial environments using field based observations. This work is seeking to establish a new chronology for the timing of ice sheet retreat from the Last Glacial Maximum, using a combination of cosmogenic exposure dating, radiocarbon dating, as well as geomorphological mapping in southeast and west Greenland. The results from the work are providing fresh insights into the response of the ice sheet to climate change, firm constraints on ice margin position as well as some of the first well-constrained estimates of changing ice sheet elevation over time. The data are essential inputs into a new generation of ice sheet models that seek to reconstruct the past and future response of the ice sheet to climate change. A particular focus has been in understanding the role of fast ice flow in Greenland, including the role played by the Jakobshavns and Helheim glaciers over Holocene timescales.
  • Reconstructing ice sheet history using relative sea-level (RSL) observations and modelling. RSL data provide some of the most powerful constraints available on former ice sheet dimensions. Historically, research has relied on radiocarbon dated samples of marine shells, whale bone or driftwood preserved in raised marine deposits. Since the mid 1990s, we have developed new high resolution RSL records using the isolation basin approach, working intensively in the Disko Bugt region of West Greenland but more recently applying the method to sites in southeast and southwest Greenland. The data provide millennial scale constraints on glacio-isostatic rebound that are excellent targets of ice sheet modelling, as well as the first quantitative estimates of late Holocene RSL rise associated with the re-growth of the ice sheet in the last few thousand years. More recently, this work has shifted focus to develop high resolution RSL records from the last few hundred years using, for the first time, salt marsh deposits to constrain recent changes and provide a link between the Holocene records and the recent direct observations of mass balance change and postglacial rebound.
  • Reconstructing ice sheet history from the offshore realm. Compared to the terrestrial record, remarkably little is known regarding the offshore extent and behaviour of the GIS. Durham staff are pioneering the application of geophysical methods for reconstructing past ice sheet history and changes in palaeoceanography using a combination of seismic and sedimentological studies. In east Greenland, for example, we have mapped the former extension of the GIS across the continental shelf, whilst in the Disko Bugt area we are, for the first time, investigating the Late Quaternary sedimentary record of the Jakobshavns fan. Sediment cores collected from within Disko Bugt provide the first reconstructions of ice sheet – ocean interactions in this critical region of the ice sheet, including new insights into the dynamics of the Jakobshavns ice stream over Holocene and recent timescales.
  • Modelling the ice sheet response to climate change over recent and longer timescales. Our strength in field observation is complemented by expertise in ice sheet modelling, with colleagues at Durham and elsewhere. We have particular interest in three areas: first, in developing a new glacio-isostatic rebound model for the Greenland Ice Sheet since deglaciation, second in modelling ice sheet mass balance change during the last 150 years or so and third, in modelling the response of tide water glaciers and ice shelves to changes in ocean and air temperatures as well as sea level change. The scale of our work varies from the entire ice sheet to individual ice streams, notably the Helheim and Jakobshavns systems.

Greenland publications by members of the Quaternary Environmental Change Research Group at Durham

Long, A.J., Woodroffe, S.A., Roberts, D.H. & Dawson, S. In press. Mid and late Holocene relative sea-level change and the Neoglacial history of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Journal of Quaternary Science.
Long, A.J., Roberts, D.H., Simpson, M.J.R., Dawson, S., Milne, G.A. & Huybrechts, P. 2008. Late Weichselian relative sea-level changes and ice sheet history in southeast Greenland. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 272, 8-18.
Long, A.J. & Roberts, D.H. & Dawson, S. 2006. Early Holocene history of the west Greenland Ice Sheet and the GH-8.2 event. Quaternary Science Reviews, 25, 904-922. Planetary Science Letters, 272, 8-18.
Long, A.J., Roberts, D.H. & Rasch, M. 2003. New observations on the relative sea-level and deglacial history of the Greenland Ice Sheet from Innaarsuit, Disko Bugt. Quaternary Research, 60, 162-171.
Long, A.J. & Roberts, D.H. 2003. Late Weichselian deglacial history of Disko Bugt, West Greenland, and the dynamics of the Jakobshavns Isbrae ice stream. Boreas, 32, 208-226.
Long, A.J. & Roberts, D.H. 2002. A revised chronology for the ‘Fjord Stade’ moraine in Disko Bugt, West Greenland. Journal of Quaternary Science, 17, 561-579.
Long, A.J., Roberts, D.H. & Wright, M. 1999. Isolation basin stratigraphy and Holocene relative sea-level change on Arveprinsen Ejland, Disko Bugt, West Greenland. Journal of Quaternary Science, 14, 323-345.
Lloyd, J.M.L., Kuijpers, A., Long, A.J., Moros, M. & Park, L.A. 2007. Foraminiferal reconstruction of mid- to late-Holocene ocean circulation and climate variability in Disko Bugt, West Greenland. The Holocene, 17, 1079-1091.
Lloyd, J.M. 2006. Late Holocene environmental change in Disko Bugt, West Greenland: interaction between climate, ocean circulation and Jakobshavns Isbrae. Boreas 35(1): 35-49.
Lloyd, J.M. 2006. Modern distribution of benthic foraminifera from Disko Bugt, West Greenland. Journal of Foraminiferal Research 36(4): 315-331.
Lloyd, J.M., Park, L.A., Kuijpers, A. & Moros, M. 2005. Early Holocene palaeoceanography and deglacial chronology of Disko Bugt, West Greenland. Quaternary Science Reviews 24(14-15): 1741-1755.
Ó Cofaigh, C., Dowdeswell, J.A., Evans, J., Kenyon, N.H., Taylor, J., Mienert, J. & Wilken, M. 2004. Timing and significance of glacially-influenced mass-wasting in the submarine channels of the Greenland Basin. Marine Geology. 207, 39-54.
Ó Cofaigh, C., Taylor, J., Dowdeswell, J.A. & Pudsey, C.J. 2003. Palaeo-ice streams, trough mouth fans and high-latitude continental slope sedimentation. Boreas. 32, 37-55.
Ó Cofaigh, C., Dowdeswell, J.A. & Grobe, H. 2001. Holocene glacimarine sedimentation, inner Scoresby Sund, East Greenland: the influence of fast-flowing ice-sheet outlet glaciers. Marine Geology. 175, 103-129.
Roberts, D.H., Yde, J.C., Knudsen, T., Long, A.J. & Lloyd, J.M. 2008. Ice marginal dynamics during surge activity, Kuannersuit Glacier, Disko Island, West Greenland. Quaternary Science Reviews.
Roberts, D.H., Long, A.J., Schnabel, C., Simpson, M.J.R. & Freeman, S. 2008. The geochronology and dynamics of southeast sector of the Greenland Ice sheet since the Last Glacial Maximum. Quaternary Science Reviews, 27, 1505-1516.
Roberts, D.H. & Long, A.J. 2005. Bedrock signatures of the Jakobshavns Isbrae ice stream, West Greenland: implications for ice stream and ice sheet dynamics. Boreas 34, 25-42.
Simpson, M.J.R., Milne, G.A., Huybrechts, P. & Long, A.J. Submitted. Calibrating a glaciological model of the Greenland ice sheet from the last glacial maximum to present-day using field observations of relative sea level and ice extent. Quaternary Science Reviews.
Woodroffe, S.A. & Long, A.J., Submitted. Salt marshes as sources of recent relative sea level change data in West Greenland. Quaternary Science Reviews.