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Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Publication details

Woodroffe, S.A., Long, A.J., Lecavalier, B. S., Milne, G.A. & Bryant, C.L. Using relative sea-level data to constrain the deglacial and Holocene history of southern Greenland. Quaternary Science Reviews. 2014;92:345-356.

Author(s) from Durham


This paper presents new Holocene relative sea-level (RSL) data collected from isolation basins close to the town of Paamiut in south west Greenland. The data shows a rapid fall from a marine limit of c. 52 m asl at c. 10.9 cal. ka BP to close to present by c. 9.5 cal. ka BP, at rates of up to c. 32 mm/yr, falling below present for the majority of the Holocene before rising to present in the last 2000 years. The elevation of the RSL lowstand is not well constrained, but was at least below −3 m. This pattern of rapid RSL fall during the early Holocene matches the pattern seen at other southern Greenland locations suggesting rapid, largely simultaneous ice retreat from the area surrounding the Qassimiut Lobe at the start of the Holocene, occurring c. 2000 years after the initial deglaciation of the extreme southern tip of Greenland. The RSL histories from this and other southern Greenland locations are distinct to those recorded further north along the west coast, and are in broad agreement with a pattern of vertical land motion and RSL predicted by the Huy2 model (Simpson et al., 2009), which predicts an 80 m drop in the contribution of vertical land motion to RSL at 10 cal. ka BP between Sisimiut and Paamiut on the west coast. Despite this broad-scale spatial agreement between the RSL data and the Huy2 model, it fails to satisfactorily predict the Holocene RSL histories at Paamiut and other southern Greenland locations. Sensitivity tests indicate that the data-model misfits are most likely due to an over-estimate of the forcing during the Holocene Thermal Maximum (or the response to this forcing) in southern Greenland and error in the North American ice sheets component of the background deglaciation model. Our new data suggests that much of the southern part of the ice sheet acted differently to the area further north. However RSL changes at Paamiut are also largely impacted by regional and larger-scale processes including a bulls-eye of uplift centred on the west, the impact of the Holocene Thermal Maximum and the influence of the collapse of the North American ice sheets.

Department of Geography