Constraining the chronology of the Late Wisconsinan retreat of the Laurentide Ice Sheet from western Canada using luminescence ages from postglacial aeolian dune sequences

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Quaternary Geochronology



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Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating of quartz extracts from postglacial aeolian dunes from central Alberta in western Canada points to a landscape that was free of ice as early as 15 ka. Data from profiles where multiple ages have been obtained indicate an increase in depositional age with depth, suggesting that older aeolian sands underlie the dated sequences. The OSL ages present plausible minimum age constraints for the retreat of the Laurentide Ice Sheet (LIS) towards the end of the Late Wisconsinan glaciation. Previous reconstructions of the LIS recession have relied on radiocarbon chronologies, despite the scarcity of contemporaneous radiocarbon-bearing material for large parts of western Canada. While the OSL chronology may be deemed concordant with ice sheet margin retreat models determined using radiocarbon data, there appears to be a systematic lag in the radiocarbon ages which may reflect that aeolian activity is initiated prior to the proliferation of organic material. The OSL chronology reported in this study does not preclude the emergence of a wide deglacial corridor between the LIS and the Cordilleran Ice Sheet by 15 ka or earlier. The possibility of such a passage would resuscitate the notion of an ice-free corridor that appeared early enough to afford the first peoples of the Americas a navigable inland migratory passage from Beringia to south of the North American ice sheets. More broadly, the corridor would also have allowed genetic exchanges between the Beringian refugium and the American middle and low latitudes.


Collaborative research with colleagues. The OSL age control provided by Dr. Feathers and myself was critical to linking the formation of sand dunes to glacial retreat in this region.

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