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Keywords:

  • Alaska;
  • glaciation;
  • Late Pleistocene;
  • chronology;
  • mountain glacier

Abstract

Moraine sequences of mountain glaciers can be used to infer spatial and temporal patterns of climate change across the globe. Alaska is an accessible high-latitude location in the Northern Hemisphere and contains a rich record of alpine glaciation. Here, we highlight the key chronologies from three mountain ranges in Alaska that reveal the timing and spatial extent of Late Pleistocene glaciation, and pay particular attention to age of the penultimate glaciation. The most extensive glacier advance of the last glaciation occurred prior to the last global glacial maximum. Cosmogenic exposure ages from moraine boulders in three sites spanning 800 km indicate that this penultimate advance most likely culminated during marine isotope stage (MIS) 4 or early MIS 3. During MIS 2, more limited glacier expansion generated multiple moraines that span from prior to the global Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) through the Lateglacial period. Glaciers retreated from their terminal positions ca. 27–25 ka in arctic Alaska and ca. 22–19 ka in southern Alaska. Moraines in at least two ranges date to 12–11 ka, indicating a glacial advance during the Younger Dryas period. Reconstructed equilibrium-line altitudes of both penultimate and MIS 2 glaciers were lowered only 300–600 m – much less than elsewhere in the Americas. Alaska is documented to have been more arid during MIS 2, perhaps due in large part to the exposure of the Bering–Chukchi platform during eustatic sea-level lowering. The restricted ice extent is also consistent with the output of climate models that simulate a lack of significant summer cooling. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.