Additional Participants

Graduate Student

Aaron Putnam

Organizational Partners

Harvard University

Project Period

August 2006-July 2007

Level of Access

Open-Access Report

Grant Number


Submission Date



This award supports a project to document former high stands and assess the stability of the West Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS) at the Ohio Range near the head of Mercer Ice Stream (formerly Ice Stream A). The field location is situated in the "Bottleneck", a unique, relatively narrow passage in the Transantarctic Mountains connecting the West and East Antarctic ice sheets. The location lies near the ice divide and is thus well situated to determine past interior ice elevation. The research will involve geologic mapping of glacial deposits and erosion features combined with cosmogenic surface exposure dating on the Ohio Range nunataks to determine the chronology of past higher ice sheet levels and local glacier fluctuations. Exposure ages of fresh glacial erratics, up to 60 m above the present ice level will be used to constrain the timing of the last high stand and subsequent draw down of the WAIS in this sector. Exposure ages of debris bands on the ice sheet surface will constrain the duration of continuous ice cover near the present elevation. A complimentary local proxy climate record will also be obtained from a chronology of the local glacier moraines. Data obtained from the proposed research will contribute to the development of time-dependent, non-equilibrium models of the WAIS, at and since the last glacial maximum 20,000 years ago, a major objective of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Initiative. Age control on ice sheet elevation from this key location, near the head of the Mercer Ice Stream, will complete chronologic coverage extending from the ice age terminus in the Ross Sea, through McMurdo Sound and the southern Transantarctic Mountains, to the onset area near the ice divide. In addition, the glacial geologic record in the Bottleneck will reflect the history of the interaction of WAIS and EAIS, which could be used to test hypotheses of Pleistocene collapse of the WAIS. The future behavior of the WAIS is of significant interest to society because of its linkage to sea level. Melting of Antarctic ice sheets would raise sea levels, negatively impacting the large portion of the human population living near the world's coasts. The research is designed to provide necessary data on the past history of the WAIS to the ice sheet modeling community in order to accurately predict the future behavior of the ice sheet. In addition, the proposed research incorporates both graduate and undergraduate student education and involves them in research with goals that are of societal significance.

Included in

Glaciology Commons