Permafrost response to last interglacial warming: field evidence from non-glaciated Yukon and Alaska

Alberto V. Reyes, Duane G. Froese, Britta J.L. Jensen

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    52 Citations (Scopus)


    We present stratigraphic observations from three sites in eastern Beringia - Ch'ijee's Bluff in northern Yukon and nearby exposures on the Old Crow River, the Palisades on the Yukon River in Alaska, and placer mining exposures at Thistle Creek in west-central Yukon - which provide insight into the response of permafrost to regional warming during the last interglaciation. Chronology is based on the presence of Old Crow tephra, an important regional stratigraphic marker that dates to late Marine Isotope Stage 6, supplemented by paleoecology and non-finite C ages on wood-rich organic silts. Old Crow tephra overlies several relict ice wedges at the Palisades and Thistle Creek, indicating that permafrost at these sites did not thaw completely during the last interglaciation. Prominent deposits of last interglacial wood-rich organic silt are present at multiple sites in eastern Beringia, and probably represent accumulations of reworked forest vegetation due to thaw slumping or deposition into thermokarst ponds or depressions. Consistent stratigraphic relations between these deposits, Old Crow tephra, and ice wedge pseudomorphs at our three study sites, and at least six other sites in eastern Beringia, suggest that thaw of shallow permafrost was widespread during the last interglaciation. Limited stratigraphic evidence suggests that thaw was probably on the order of meters, rather than 10s of meters. The ubiquity of shallow permafrost degradation during the last interglaciation suggests that current ground warming may foreshadow widespread near-surface thaw under even modest future warming scenarios. However, the persistence of relict pre-last interglacial ice wedges highlights the potential for the regional antiquity of discontinuous permafrost, and provides compelling field evidence for the long-term resilience of deep permafrost during sustained periods of warmer-than-present climate.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)3256-3274
    Number of pages19
    JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
    Issue number23-24
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2010

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright 2010 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
    • Geology
    • Global and Planetary Change


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