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Geological Society of America

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Ongoing climate change focuses attention on the Arctic cryosphere’s responses to past and future climate states. Although it is now recognized the Arctic Ocean Basin was covered by ice sheets and their associated floating ice shelves several times during the Late Pleistocene, the timing and extent of these polar ice sheets remain uncertain. Here we relate a relict barrier-island system on the Beaufort Sea coast of northern Alaska to the isostatic effects of a previously unrecognized ice shelf grounded on the adjacent continental shelf. A new suite of optically stimulated luminescence dates show that this barrier system formed during one or more marine transgressions occurring late in Marine Isotope Stage 5 (MIS 5) between 113 ka and 71 ka. Because these transgressions occurred after the warmest part of the last interglacial (ca. 123 ka) and did not coincide with the global eustatic sea-level maximum during MIS 5e, this indicates Arctic ice sheets developed out-of-phase with lower-latitude sectors of the Laurentide and Fennoscandian ice sheets. We speculate that Arctic ice sheets began development during full interglacial conditions when abundant moisture penetrated to high latitudes, and low summer insolation favored glacier growth. These ice sheets reached their full extents at interglacial-glacial transitions, then wasted away at the heights of mid-latitude glaciations because of moisture limitations.

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