Recent changes in speed, thinning, and retreat rates of marine-terminating outlet glaciers have raised concerns about the future stability of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Establishing a longer term record of outlet glacier retreat rates is essential to provide a context for present-day observations and to improve and constrain numerical models of outlet glacier behavior. New exposure dating (10Be) of streamlined bedrock surfaces and glacial erratic boulders of Sermilik Fjord, southeast Greenland, the present-day drainage route of Helheim Glacier, documents rapid retreat (∼80 m a–1) of this major marine-terminating outlet glacier at the close of the last glaciation. The glacier front retreated ∼80 km to within 20 km of the present-day (2010) position of Helheim Glacier in <1 ka, ca. 10.8 ± 0.3 ka ago. Retreat followed rapidly rising air temperatures at the start of the Holocene, and at this temporal resolution there is no evidence that fjord geometry influenced glacier behavior. The significant response to climatic amelioration at the end of the last glacial suggests a high sensitivity to abrupt temperature increases, which has major implications for the future stability of present-day Greenlandic outlet glaciers in a warming climate.
- Received 8 August 2011.
- Revision received 23 November 2011.
- Accepted 13 December 2011.
- © Geological Society of America