Abstract

Columbia Glacier in Prince William Sound, Alaska, has retreated ∼20 km in the past three decades. We use marine sediment records to document the Columbia Glacier advance and retreat history over the past 1.6 k.y. in an effort to place its recent retreat in the context of the Common Era (C.E.). A change in magnetic mineralogy coincided with a shift in sediment geochemistry ca. 0.9 ka. This provenance change documents the advance of Columbia Glacier across a fault, resulting in glacial erosion of mafic rocks near the coast; this agrees with the timing of ice advance reconstructed using dendrochronology. Our marine provenance records show that Columbia Glacier remained advanced south of this fault into the 21st century. Columbia Glacier has now retreated north of this fault, making its recent retreat unprecedented since before ca. 0.9 ka. Southern Alaska temperatures have now warmed to pre–0.9 ka levels, based on tree-ring and reanalysis data. We show with glacier model simulations that the warming between C.E. 1910 and 1980, that includes anthropogenic forcing, was sufficient to trigger the recent retreat of Columbia Glacier from its extended position of the past 0.9 k.y., consistent with our data-driven assessment of the relationship between regional climate change and glacier extent. We conclude that the recent retreat of Columbia Glacier is a response to climate change rather than part of a natural internal tidewater-glacier oscillation.

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