Collapse of the European ice sheet caused chaos

June 27, 2017
The sea level rise and the colossal amounts of meltwater discharged from the collapsing ice sheet meant that areas that previously were land eventually became seabed. Britain and Ireland, which had been joined to Europe throughout the last ice age, finally separated with the flooding of the English Channel around 10,000 years ago. Credit: Henry Patton/CAGE

Scientists have reconstructed in detail the collapse of the Eurasian ice sheet at the end of the last ice age. The big melt wreaked havoc across the European continent, driving home the original Brexit 10,000 years ago.

The Eurasian ice was an enormous conveyor of ice that covered most of northern Europe some 23,000 years ago. Its extent was such that a skier could have traversed 4,500 km continuously across its expanse from the far southwestern isles in Britain to Franz Josef Land in the Siberian Arctic. Its existence had a massive and extremely hostile impact on Europe at the time.

This ice sheet alone lowered the global sea level by over 20 meters. As it melted and collapsed, it caused severe flooding across the continent, led to dramatic sea level rise, and diverted mega-rivers that raged on the continent. A new model investigating the retreat of this ice sheet and its many impacts has just been published in Quaternary Science Reviews.

Ten times the melt of Greenland and Antarctica today

"Our model experiments show that from 15000 to 13000 years ago, the Eurasian ice sheet lost 750 cubic kilometres of ice a year. For short periods, it peaked at ice loss rates of over 3000 cubic kilometres per year," says first author Henry Patton, researcher at CAGE Centre for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate at UiT The Arctic University of Norway. A cubic kilometre of ice contains 1,000,000,000 tonnes of water. Now multiply that by 3000.

"There is an event in this deglaciation story called Meltwater Pulse 1A. This was a period of very rapid sea level rise that lasted some 400 to 500 years when global temperatures were rising very quickly. During this period, we estimate that the Eurasian Ice Sheet contributed around 2.5 metres to rise," says Patton.

"To place it in context," says professor Alun Hubbard, the paper's second author and a leading glaciologist. "This is almost 10 times the current rates of ice lost from Greenland and Antarctica today. What's fascinating is that not all Eurasian ice retreat was from surface melting alone. Its northern and western sectors across the Barents Sea, Norway and Britain terminated directly into the sea. They underwent rapid collapse through calving of vast armadas of icebergs and undercutting of the ice margin by warm ocean currents."

"This is a harbinger of what's starting to happen to the Greenland ice sheet," warns Hubbard.

Based on the latest reconstruction of the famous ice age river system, Fleuve Manche, the scientists have calculated that its catchment area was similar to that of the Mississippi. Credit: H.Patton/CAGE

All rivers in Europe unite

The influence of the Eurasian ice sheet extended far beyond what was directly covered by ice. One of the most dramatic impacts was the formation of the enormous Fleuve Manche. This was a mega-river network that drained the present-day Vistula, Elbe, Rhine and Thames rivers, and the meltwater from the ice sheet itself, through the Seine Estuary and into the North Atlantic.

"Some speculate that at some points during the European deglaciation, this river system had a discharge twice that of the Amazon today. Based on our latest reconstruction of this system, we have calculated that its catchment area was similar to that of the Mississippi. It was certainly the largest river system to have ever drained the Eurasian continent," says Patton

The vast reach of this catchment meant that this mega-river had the capacity to contribute enormous volumes of cold freshwater directly into the North Atlantic, enough to have severely modified the Gulf Stream—a major climate influencer.

Also, the and the colossal amounts of meltwater discharged from the collapsing ice sheet meant that areas that were previously above sea level eventually became seabed.

"Britain and Ireland, which had been joined to Europe throughout the last ice age, finally separated with the flooding of the English Channel around 10,000 years ago. It was the original Brexit, so to speak," says Alun Hubbard.

The ice retreats, the humans advance

The ice reconstruction in this study provides a fascinating image of a changing Europe during the time that prehistoric humans came to populate the continent. The environmental challenges they met must have been spectacular.

"One thing that we show pretty well in this study is that our simulation is relevant to a range of different research disciplines, not only glaciology. It can even be useful for archaeologists who look at human migration routes, and are interested to see how the European environment developed over the last 20,000 years." says Patton

This model reconstruction has already proven a vital constraint for understanding complex systems beyond the realm. For example, data from this study has been used to examine the evolution of gas hydrate stability within the Eurasian Arctic over glacial timescales, exploring the development of massive mounds and methane blow-out craters that have been recently discovered on the Arctic seafloor.

Explore further: Inception of the last ice age

More information: Henry Patton et al, Deglaciation of the Eurasian ice sheet complex, Quaternary Science Reviews (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2017.05.019

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the_bohemian_girl
2.3 / 5 (9) Jun 27, 2017
...and somehow the Human Race survived this disaster =)
RichTheEngineer
1.7 / 5 (12) Jun 27, 2017
OMG! We need to restore Eurasian ice sheet! Just think of all the poor creatures that drowned due to man's neglect!
MR166
1.5 / 5 (17) Jun 27, 2017
10K years is a nanosecond in geological time. Yet they claim that today's warming is unusual ,caused by man and not by natural cycles. As society becomes less and less ethical scientific hoaxes will become more prevalent.
dnatwork
4.5 / 5 (15) Jun 27, 2017
If you want to find climate change deniers, just publish any facts at all.
bobbysius
4.3 / 5 (11) Jun 27, 2017
10K years is a nanosecond in geological time. Yet they claim that today's warming is unusual ,caused by man and not by natural cycles.


A few decades is a nanosecond compared to 10K years. If current warming trends occurred over 10K years, then your "natural" claim might hold water.
Porgie
Jun 27, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
guptm
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 28, 2017
Human is one part of the infinite in the nature. We are not the master of it all. No one can restore any ice sheet. Just live with it. We are puppets of nature.

We are in a huge misconception that we can grasp it all and control it eventually. It is way beyond human control. Believe it or not!
Joker23
1.7 / 5 (6) Jun 28, 2017
Those dam Neanderthals and their SUV's, Hearth fires and smoking MUST be the cause. It was over-population too. I suppose that is why the Europeans are thinking more and more about euthanasia.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (5) Jun 28, 2017
.and somehow the Human Race survived this disaster

As the article notes: "The ice retreats, the humans advance." Humans weren't impacted by this disaster because there weren't any there.
shavera
4.5 / 5 (8) Jun 28, 2017
@guptm, we may be 'one part' of nature but we're an awfully large part of it in the modern era. We've made many actions without the intent of altering climate, where the altering of climate has occurred all the same as a consequence. Whether we can intentionally alter climate for some outcome maybe is unknown; but we can limit the actions that have unintentionally caused such an alteration already.

@Joker23: Look at the labels on the gif. Those frames are thousands of years apart. Time scales are an extremely important factor in this discussion. The effects of rapid climate change are considerably different than those of slow changes.
MR166
2.3 / 5 (6) Jun 28, 2017
Climate history over the millennia is littered with warming and cooling periods. The high priests were always in high demand by offering to fix the problem. It is no different today, only the human sacrifices have changed.
greenonions1
4.3 / 5 (6) Jun 28, 2017
Climate history over the millennia is littered with warming and cooling periods
OMG - quick MR - tell the climate scientists - they had no idea. Maybe you could discover the Milankovich cycles - and become famous!
The high priests were always in high demand
So what is your suggestion MR. Let's all bury our heads in the sand - and not study the universe? It seems that it is the religionists who have the high priests. The scientists just want to study stuff - and their best to give us the information we need to find our way forward. But as usual - you and your pals sit in front of your computer screen every night - and proclaim your superior knowledge - superior to tens of thousands of trained scientists who have spent their life studying this stuff. Sorry - what are your credentials again?
MR166
2 / 5 (4) Jun 28, 2017
" Let's all bury our heads in the sand - and not study the universe?"

Study and inform yes, promote the political agenda of Gore, Soros and the UN NO.
Benni
2 / 5 (4) Jun 28, 2017
If you want to find climate change deniers, just publish any facts at all.


.........Yep, they deny that climate changes, dumb neanderthals & their campfires, just look at the mess they got us into with their open air cooking.
greenonions1
4 / 5 (4) Jun 28, 2017
Study and inform yes, promote the political agenda of Gore, Soros and the UN NO
Well why don't you re-read today's really interesting article - that is full of really interesting information. Now tell us where you see any one promoting Al Gore, Soros or the UN agenda... And yet - every time there is an article that touches on the subject of climate change - you have to appear dumb, sarcastic, juvenile political comments. Who is the one pushing a political agenda? If you are interested in learning about the universe - why not read today's article - be impressed with the depth of information it provides - and move on the the next piece of the jigsaw?
MR166
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 28, 2017
I never claimed that this paper had a political agenda. I know now that "They" can be applied to unintended people and did not want to include the author. My first statement should have been more specific.
greenonions1
4.2 / 5 (5) Jun 28, 2017
I never claimed that this paper had a political agenda.
But - in commenting on this article - you said
The high priests were always in high demand by offering to fix the problem. It is no different today, only the human sacrifices have changed.
What does that even mean? How does that relate to today's article? So today's article is really interesting - and gives us some great insight into past climate events. Says nothing about fixing any problems - just sticks very carefully to their area of research. And along you come with nonsense about high priests, and Al Gore etc. Again - who is the one with the political agenda? Who turns an interesting science article into an attack on boogeymen? Can't you give it a rest - and let the information gathering take it's course. I don't care about you personally - but I am so tired of living in a stupid society - and you just constantly rub my nose in the fact that I don't have a choice - living in a world of fools...
mtnphot
3.5 / 5 (4) Jun 28, 2017
...and somehow the Human Race survived this disaster =)

Maybe there were 6 billion on the planet and only a few survived? Do you really think the present population would survive. It certainly will filter out those from the cities; they produce so much food and create so little waste for the population living in them. Remember food does not come in a package. Hope those people living at sea level are good at farming swampland. If not they will need to get good at it really quickly.
jonesdave
3.7 / 5 (6) Jun 28, 2017
10K years is a nanosecond in geological time. Yet they claim that today's warming is unusual ,caused by man and not by natural cycles. As society becomes less and less ethical scientific hoaxes will become more prevalent.


Sorry; what did you qualify in? And where? University of Exxon Mobil, was it? Nowheresville, U.S.A. Just a guess.
jonesdave
3 / 5 (2) Jun 28, 2017
..... I don't have a choice - living in a world of **uneducated** fools


FTFY.
Homebrook
1 / 5 (3) Jun 29, 2017
This article is purposely misleading and alarmist.
Did you notice that nowhere in this article did the author explain at what rate the oceans rose during the time the glaciers melted? He didn't mention it because if he had it would have made all his implications of catastrophic flooding look ridiculous.
Yes, the ocean's levels did rise, but very gradually over thousands of years. All those cubic kilometers and billions of gallons of water did not drain into a lake, but into the oceans which distribute the rise across all the oceans of the world. When taken into context all the enormous numbers which are meant to alarm us and give us great concern over our present oceans rising, fade into nothingness if you do the actual math.
Let's take the 20 meters, or about 60 feet of rising ocean water mentioned in the article. Let's be conservative and increase that by 1,000% to 600 feet. That would result in 3.6 in./year taken over the 2,000 years in which the rise occurred.
Homebrook
1 / 5 (2) Jun 29, 2017
There was no "flooding," nor was there any "spectacular" change for people to experience. The "change" would have been barely noticeable. There was an extremely slow rise in the ocean levels, easily adjusted to by any human population, because it occurred over many centuries. The whole article is absurd and relies upon the reader not understanding the implications of the math. Not all of us are as stupid as the author expects.
greenonions1
5 / 5 (3) Jun 30, 2017
Homebrook - current rate of sea level rise is approx 3 mm per year. Scientists understand the math very well.
Not all of us are as stupid as the author expects.
You may want to revisit that assertion. I think it should probably read "unfortunately, the authors fully realize the level of stupid that many of us have accomplished, but they were publishing for the other half (or what ever the percentage is) of the world."
PTTG
5 / 5 (3) Jun 30, 2017
OH! I see what the denialists are arguing! They're saying "climate change has happened naturally in the past, therefore current climate change is natural." Which is like a coroner getting a corpse with 45 stab wounds in the back, saying "people have died of natural causes before," and deciding it wasn't murder after all.

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