Melting Scandinavian Ice Provides Missing Link Ice Age Mystery

First Posted: Nov 17, 2015 12:46 PM EST

Melting Scandinavian ice may provide the missing piece for one of the most enduring puzzles of the last Ice Age. Scientists have found evidence that the melting ice sheet during this past time period may be the final clue as to what occurred at the end of the Ice Age.

For years, researchers have struggled to reconcile climate models of Earth about 13,000 years ago with the theory that a catastrophic freshwater flood from the melting North American ice sheets plunged the planet into a sudden and final cold snap, just before entering the present warm interglacial.

Now, a team of scientists has found evidence in the sediments of an ancient Swedish lake that it was the melting of Scandinavian ice sheets that influenced that last Ice Age.

"The remains of midges, contained in the lake sediments, reveal a great deal about the past climate," said Steve Brooks, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The assemblage of species, when compared with modern records, enable us to track how, after an initial warming of up to four degrees Centigrade at the end of the last Ice Age, summer temperatures plummeted by five degrees Celsius over the next 400 years."

The observed colder and drier climate conditions were likely driven by increasingly stronger melting of the Scandinavian ice sheet in response to warming at the end of the last Ice Age. This led to an expansion of summer sea ice and to changes in sea-ice distribution in the eastern region of the North Atlantic. This, in turn, caused abrupt climate change.

"The Scandinavian ice sheet definitely played a much more significant role in the onset of this final cold period than previously thought," said Barbara Wohlfarth, project leader. "Our teamwork highlights the importance of paleoclimate studies, not least in respect to the ongoing warming debate."

The findings are published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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