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Academics date ‘rapid’ decline of giant ice sheet that once covered Wales

08 Nov 2022 2 minute read
Right: Aberystwyth University scientists gathering data as part of the BRITICE-CHRONO project. Left Picture: Pixabay.

An ancient ice sheet once covering Wales and Ireland disappeared more rapidly than previously thought, experts at a Welsh university have discovered.

Published in the journal ‘Boreas’, the research by Aberystwyth University studied the last British-Irish ice sheet, which contained enough ice to raise global sea-levels by almost two metres when it melted. 

The researchers wanted to know how long it takes for such large ice sheets to disappear.

As part of the £3.7 million BRITICE-CHRONO project, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, experts at Aberystwyth University used their luminescence dating techniques to track the advance and retreat of the ice sheet between 31,000 years ago and 15,000 years ago.

The data reveal that the ice stream that flowed through the Irish Sea reached as far south as the Isles of Scilly about 26,000 years ago, but then retreated rapidly in marine areas, such as off the coast of Wales and Ireland.

The rapid retreat could have major implications for how we view the current risks of climate change and the retreat of the world’s remaining ice sheets and glaciers.

The new details about the vast ice sheet make it the best understood in the world.

Professor Geoff Duller from Aberystwyth University said: “This research is ground-breaking in many ways, and Aberystwyth University’s dating methods are central to these findings. Using our luminescence dating methods, we can now measure far more accurately the age of these glaciers and when they grew and decayed. 

“These findings suggest that there was, in geological terms, a rapid retreat of the ice sheet off the coasts of Wales and Ireland – a matter of a thousand years – which is faster than previously thought.”

“These findings will affect the way we view what is happening with the climate crisis at the moment. We now know that these ancient ice sheets disappeared quickly in marine areas; we need to reflect on what that means for our planet today.”

Field investigations

A team of researchers from across the UK, including academics from Aberystwyth University, conducted 1,500 days of field investigation both on land and sea, gathering vast amounts of data including 377 cores of sea floor sediments and 690 pieces of new data revealing the age of the ice sheet.


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Peter Cuthbert
Peter Cuthbert
27 days ago

Well done the Aberystwyth Team! However, the results are a bit scary for Aberystwyth in that if ice sheets melt faster than had been thought, the modelling of sea level rise under our current Climate Breakdown crisis may be too optimistic. If I recall correctly, the last forecast published in the Cambrian News was for Aber to be flooded by the sea in 30 years. If that gets pulled down to 20 or 10 years we are going to find our lives significantly changed.

Kerry Davies
Kerry Davies
27 days ago

If the ice retreated like a bankruptcy, first gradually then suddenly, things could get really nasty really quickly from here on.
“Managed retreat” doesn’t seem so radical as today’s Guardian article on Fiji shows. 6 villages have already been abandoned and moved uphill with 42 more due within 5 to 10 years.
One village there was losing an insane 1.5M a year to encroaching tides. In the first 6 months of this year they lost 5 metres and their cemetery. That village isn’t even scheduled to be relocated.

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