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Nature. 2007 Mar 8;446(7132):176-9. Epub 2007 Feb 7.

Continental ice in Greenland during the Eocene and Oligocene.

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School of Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton, University of Southampton, European Way, Southampton SO14 3ZH, UK.


The Eocene and Oligocene epochs (approximately 55 to 23 million years ago) comprise a critical phase in Earth history. An array of geological records supported by climate modelling indicates a profound shift in global climate during this interval, from a state that was largely free of polar ice caps to one in which ice sheets on Antarctica approached their modern size. However, the early glaciation history of the Northern Hemisphere is a subject of controversy. Here we report stratigraphically extensive ice-rafted debris, including macroscopic dropstones, in late Eocene to early Oligocene sediments from the Norwegian-Greenland Sea that were deposited between about 38 and 30 million years ago. Our data indicate sediment rafting by glacial ice, rather than sea ice, and point to East Greenland as the likely source. Records of this type from one site alone cannot be used to determine the extent of ice involved. However, our data suggest the existence of (at least) isolated glaciers on Greenland about 20 million years earlier than previously documented, at a time when temperatures and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations were substantially higher.


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