The age of surface-exposed ice along the northern margin of the Greenland Ice Sheet

Joseph A. MacGregor, Mark A. Fahnestock, William T. Colgan, Nicolaj K. Larsen, Kristian K. Kjeldsen, Jeffrey M. Welker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Each summer, surface melting of the margin of the Greenland Ice Sheet exposes a distinctive visible stratigraphy that is related to past variability in subaerial dust deposition across the accumulation zone and subsequent ice flow toward the margin. Here we map this surface stratigraphy along the northern margin of the ice sheet using mosaicked Sentinel-2 multispectral satellite imagery from the end of the 2019 melt season and finer-resolution WorldView-2/3 imagery for smaller regions of interest. We trace three distinct transitions in apparent dust concentration and the top of a darker basal layer. The three dust transitions have been identified previously as representing late-Pleistocene climatic transitions, allowing us to develop a coarse margin chronostratigraphy for northern Greenland. Substantial folding of late-Pleistocene stratigraphy is observed but uncommon. The oldest conformal surface-exposed ice in northern Greenland is likely located adjacent to Warming Land and may be up to ~55 thousand years old. Basal ice is commonly exposed hundreds of metres from the ice margin and may indicate a widespread frozen basal thermal state. We conclude that the ice margin across northern Greenland offers multiple opportunities to recover paleoclimatically distinct ice relative to previously studied regions in southwestern Greenland.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)667-684
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Glaciology
Issue number258
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


  • Ice and climate
  • ice chronology/dating
  • paleoclimate
  • remote sensing

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 5: Nature and Climate


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