Past warmth and its impacts during the holocene thermal maximum in greenland

Yarrow Axford*, Anne De Vernal, Erich C. Osterberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Higher boreal summer insolation in the early to middle Holocene drove thousands of years of summer warming across the Arctic. Modern-day warming has distinctly different causes, but geologic data from this past warm period hold lessons for the future. We compile Holocene temperature reconstructions from ice, lake, and marine cores around Greenland, where summer temperatures are globally important due to their influence on ice sheet mass balance, ocean circulation, and sea ice. Highlighting and accounting for some key issues with proxy interpretation, we find that much of Greenland experienced summers 3 to 5degC warmer than the mid-twentieth century in the early Holocenemdashearlier and stronger warming than often presumed. Warmth had dramatic consequences: Many glaciers disappeared, perennial sea ice retreated, plants and animals migrated northward, the Greenland Ice Sheet shrank rapidly, and increased meltwater discharge led to strong marine water stratification and enhanced winter sea ice in some areas. squfensp Summer air temperatures and open ocean temperatures around much of Greenland peaked in the early Holocene in response to elevated summer insolation. squfensp Peak summer air temperatures ranged from 3 to 5degC warmer than the mid-twentieth century in northwest and central Greenland to perhaps 1 to 2degC warmer in south Greenland. squfensp Many differences between records can be explained by proxy seasonality, ice sheet elevation changes, vegetation analogs and lags, and the nearshore effects of ice sheet meltwater. squfensp Early Holocene warmth dramatically affected glaciers and the Greenland Ice Sheet; meltwater discharge, nearshore ocean salinity, and sea ice; and diverse flora and fauna.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)279-307
Number of pages29
JournalAnnual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences
StatePublished - May 30 2021


  • Arctic
  • Greenland Ice Sheet
  • Holocene Thermal Maximum
  • paleoceanography
  • paleoclimate
  • paleolimnology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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