Glacial History of Matanuska and Knik Glaciers Since LGM

New research findings reveal the timing and style of de-glaciation of the Matanuska and Knik Glaciers following the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM).

Summary:  The Matanuska Glacier advanced to the Anchorage Lowland forming the Elmendorf Moraine during the Last Glacial Maximum (~21,000 years ago).  The ice flowed 140 km with the terminus of the glacier extending from Willow to Goose Bay.  The ice retreated between 16,800 and 16,400 years ago.  A second, faster retreat phase occurred later and the Matanuska Glacier had returned to its current location by 13,700 years ago.

Details:  At the end of the last ice age, glacier systems worldwide underwent dramatic retreat. Here, we document the advance and retreat of a glacier system with  adjacent marine- and land-based components during the latter part of the Termination. This research utilizes three lines of evidence: lithologic provenance, geomorphic mapping, and radiocarbon ages derived from lake cores to reconstruct glacier extent and timing of advance and retreat within our study area centered at N 61.50, W 149.50, just north of Anchorage, Alaska.

Two glaciers, sourced in the Talkeetna and Chugach Mountains, flowed down the Matanuska and Knik Valleys forming a coalesced lobe that advanced onto the Anchorage Lowlands and terminated at Elmendorf Moraine. The blue polygon in the image above shows the ice shed for the twinned Matanuska and Knik Glaciers during the LGM with the brown polygon representing the terminal moraine created called the Elmendorf Moraine.  Modern glacier extends are delineated by the bold black outlines.  We use the presence of lithologies unique to the Matanuska catchment in glacial drift to delineate the paleoflow lines and to estimate the suture line of the two glacier systems. The eastern side of the lobe, attributed to ice flow from the Knik Valley, was in contact with elevated marine waters within the Knik Arm fjord, and thus retreat was likely dominated by calving.

Geomorphic evidence suggests the western side of the lobe, attributed to ice flow from Matanuska Valley, retreated due to stagnation. We constrain retreat of the combined Matanuska and Knik lobe with thirteen new radiocarbon ages, in addition to previously published radiocarbon ages, and with geomorphic evidence
suggesting the retreat occurred in two phases.

Retreat from the Elmendorf Moraine began between 16.8 and 16.4 ka BP.  A second, faster retreat phase occurred later and was completed by 13.7 ka BP. With the 140 km of total retreat occurring over ~3000 years or less.

This pattern of glacial advance and retreats agrees well with the deglacial histories from the southern sectors of the  Cordilleran Ice Sheet, as well as many other alpine glacier systems in the western U.S. and northern Alaska. This consistent behavior of glacier systems may indicate that climate oscillated over western North America early in deglaciation before it was recorded in other proxies such as ice cores. Furthermore, the period in which we note mountain glacier collapse in northwestern North America is synchronous with the worldwide glacial termination raising questions about intra-hemispheric linkages.  



For the full paper: Kopczynski, Sarah, etal. (2017).  Latest Pleistocene advance and collapse of the Matanuska - Knik glacier system, Anchorage Lowland, southern Alaska.  Quaternary Science Reviews, Volume 156.  pg. 121-134