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Project findings provide essential insight into the last British–Irish ice sheet

Understanding more about the north-west European continental shelf and improving forecasting for the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets.

29/09/2022 By BGS Press
BRITICE-CHRONO team in conversation on board RRS James Cook
BRITICE-CHRONO team in conversation on board RRS James Cook. © BRITICE-CHRONO

A paper marking the culmination of a highly successful project into a former ice sheet is helping researchers to understand more about the north-west European continental shelf. It’s also helping improve forecasting for the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets.

The five-year, £3.7 million BRITICE-CHRONO consortium, funded by NERC, took on the most ambitious geochronological project yet, encompassing on- and offshore mapping around the British Isles to better describe and understand the growth and decay of the last British–Irish ice sheet.

BRITICE research included 1500 days of field investigation yielding 18 000 km of marine geophysical data, 377 cores of sea-floor sediment and geomorphological and stratigraphical information at over one hundred sites on land. This enabled the generation of 690 new geochronometric ages, which were collected to understand the timings, coverage and retreat of the British–Irish ice sheet and to provide a geochronological framework between 31 000 and 15 000 years ago.

BRITICE-CHRONO voyages around a former ice sheet
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Voyages around a former ice sheet. © BRITICE-CHRONO

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The findings bear a strong similarity to the dynamics and evolving configuration in the Antarctic today, enabling scientists to refine and improve current ice sheet modelling approaches. It will also aid researchers investigating regional palaeoenvironments as well as those working on offshore development (e.g. offshore renewables) and marine management.

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BGS is proud to have played a role in this important project. The paper compiles and distils many of the detailed findings from the onshore work and offshore transects of the project and will serve as a useful resource to inform and expand on current knowledge on the evolution of the British–Irish ice sheet.

Dayton Dove, BGS Marine Geoscientist. 

BGS scientists participated in and contributed to the project by providing expertise, data and information to support planning, implementation and interpretation of survey and project results. The offshore coring was also carried out by BGS engineering teams.

Two reconstructions of the ice sheet were developed: an empirical version and one that combines modelling and the new empirical evidence. Palaeoglaciological maps of ice extent, thickness, velocity and flow geometry at thousand-year time intervals were also produced.

The paper, Growth and retreat of the last British–Irish Ice Sheet, 31 000 to 15 000 years ago: the BRITICE-CHRONO reconstruction, was published in BOREAS.

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