Evidence from paleoclimatic archives suggests that Earth's climate experienced rapid temperature changes associated with pronounced interhemispheric asymmetry during the last glacial period. Explanations for these climate excursions have converged on nonlinear interactions between ice sheets and the ocean's thermohaline circulation, but the driving mechanism remains to be identified. Here we use multidecadal marine records of faunal, oxygen isotope, and sediment proxies from the northeast Atlantic proximal to the western margins of the last glacial British Ice Sheet (BIS) to document the coupling between ice sheet dynamics, ocean circulation, and insolation changes. The core data reveal successions of short-lived (80-100 years), high-amplitude ice-rafted debris (IRD) events that were initiated up to 2000 years before the deposition of detrital carbonate during Heinrich events (HE) 1 and 2. Progressive disintegration of the BIS 19-16 kyr before present (B.P.) occurred in response to abrupt ocean-climate warmings that impinged on the northeast Atlantic during the early deglaciation. Peak IRD deposition recurs at 180-220 year intervals plausibly involving repeated breakup of glacial tidewater margins and fringing marine ice shelves. The early deglaciation culminated in a major meltwater pulse at ∼16.3 kyr B.P. followed by another discharge associated with HE1 some 300 years after. We conclude that temperature changes related to external forcing and marine heat transport caused a rapid response of the BIS and possibly other margins of the Eurasian Ice Sheet. Massive but short-lived meltwater surges influenced the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation thereby contributing to North Atlantic climate variability and bipolar climatic asymmetry.
- Programområde 5: Natur og klima