Paleoenvironmental Time Slice Reconstructions, Glaciated North America

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1 Paleoenvironmental Time Slice Reconstructions, Glaciated North America Arthur S. Dyke Geological Survey of Canada Paleoenvironmental conditions in northern North America for the period from the Last Glacial Maximum ( radiocarbon years ago; calendar years ago) to present can be reconstructed from a variety of large data sets. These data sets comprise radiocarbon and stratigraphically dated time series (e.g., pollen stratigraphic records), fossil assemblages (e.g., marine molluscs and mammals), and environmental events (e.g., deglaciation, relative sea-level change, alpine glacier advances, deposition of eolian sediment, or formation of ice wedges ). Paleoenvironmental databases are maintained by the Geological Survey of Canada in order to document how past environments have responded to climate change during the last major climatic hemicycle that was forced by changes in solar radiation. The Table below lists the size and composition of these databases. Table 1. Paleoenvironmental Databases, Glaciated North America Database Deglaciation Sea Level Change Pollen Plant Macrofossils Size 4042 dates > dates; 535 RSL curves 1170 sites 829 sites (ca 1000 dates) Mammals 4555 dates (Terrestrial, 3571; Marine, 804; Both, 175) Wetland Inception 1741 dates Eolian Permafrost Marine Molluscs Alpine Glaciers 1332 sites 672 sites 4274 dated assemblages C dates; 1069 Dendro, etc ages New deglaciation maps for North America were prepared in response to the need by paleoclimate and isostatic adjustment modellers for updated ice margin sequences at 500 year time steps. These maps have much better chronological control than previous versions, the net effect of which is to bring the deglacial history of North America into better correlation with the climate history expressed in the North Atlantic marine sediment records and in the Greenland ice cores. In particular, the Younger Dryas cooling (see Fig. 1) is now recognized as a major driver of Laurentide end moraine construction and the 8200 calendar year BP cold event is

2 firmly correlated with the flushing of giant glacial lakes Agassiz and Ojibway into the Labrador Sea via Hudson Strait (see Fig 2). These ice margin maps provide the input for reconstructions of ice surface elevation through time, a critical boundary condition in paleoclimate modelling. The replication targets in isostatic adjustment modelling are relative sea-level curves and isobase maps derived from them and from the deformations of glacial lake strandlines. A new series of isobase maps is currently under construction by Dyke, Shaw, Lewis, Thorleifson, and James at GSC. The history and future of wetlands is a major concern because paludification has fundamentally altered the structure of Canadian forests, converting large areas into muskeg, and because peatlands are the largest terrestrial sink of carbon. Peatland formation lagged deglaciation by 2000 to 3000 years, but appears to be proceeding apace today (Fig. 3). The major terrestrial biomes (vegetation and faunal assemblages) of northern North America have been reconstructed for the interval from LGM to present from pollen, plant macrofossil, and terrestrial mammal databases. These biome maps will soon be posted on the GSC Quaternary Paleoenvironments Website. Biomes have not only shifted by hundreds to thousands of kilometres during this interval but have also changed strongly in composition. For example, the Herb Tundra in Beringia (unglaciated Alaska-Yukon) of LGM to about radiocarbon years BP bears little resemblance to herb tundras of today. The ancestral Beringian herb tundra, despite colder LGM temperatures and drier conditions, was much more productive and capable of supporting herds of large grazers that could not be supported in any tundra area today. Dale Guthrie (2001; Quaternary Science Reviews 20: ) argues that this productivity was due to persistent sunny skies under the high atmospheric pressure at that time. Similarly, the Late Pleistocene Boreal Forests were different in composition from those of today, as were other forest belts. These differences are due to the fact that species, both plants and animals, responded individualistically to climate change. Modern associations, which we tend to think of as normal or natural, are thus not analogous to earlier associations. For the same reason, future biomes, forced by anthropogenic climate change will not be compositionally identical to present ones. Marine biomes have shifted just as greatly as have terrestrial biomes. Indeed, shifts of water mass boundaries during postglacial time were even greater. For example, for most of postglacial time, the boundary between Arctic and Subarctic waters in Baffin Bay was displaced 1000 km north of its present position, allowing warmth-demanding clams to extend their ranges accordingly. Such biome shifts are poorly understood in terms of exact forcings, but they have great implications for the potential fate of commercial fish and clam species and for terrestrial climate. The great challenge in terms of the impacts of future climate change is to understand past biome changes sufficiently well that they may be used to forecast changes over the next century to millennium. This will require biome models that can reproduce LGM to

3 present changes with convincing fidelity and accurate models of future climate linked to biome models. Figure 1. Paleogeography at radiocarbon years ago, the beginning of the Younger Dryas cold event. Figure 2. Paleogeography at 7700 radiocarbon years ago (8400 calendar years ago), the beginning of the 8200 BP Cold Event, caused by the flushing of Glacial lake Agassiz- Ojibway into Hudson Strait along a subglacial channel indicated on the map. Figure 3. The pace of wetland formation compared to the rate at which land became icefree (deglaciated) in North America since the Last Glacial Maximum.

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5 Wetland Inception & Deglaciation Percent Radiocarbon years BP % Deglaciated % Wetlands formed

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