Ice Age development and Human Settlement in northern Eurasia (ICEHUS)
ICEHUS is a Russian-Norwegian co-operation project that is financed by the Research Council of Norway for the period 2005-2010. The overall aim of the investigations is to improve the description and understanding of the Late Quaternary environmental changes at high latitudes and their impact on the earliest human occupation in northern Russia.
In contrast to Svalbard, Scandinavia and much of Northern Europe, where the youngest ice sheets erased most of the pre-existing records from earlier periods of the Quaternary, northern Russia contain much more complete geological and archaeological archives that are essential for deciphering the history of the entire Barents-Kara sea region and the early human adaptation to a cold climate. We plan to carry out field expeditions in the European part of Russia as well as in West Siberia. The planned research activities will be a contribution to the International Polar Year (IPY) 2007 - 2008. A main IPY activity will be to core lakes in the Polar Urals, which according to our hypothesis may contain uninterrupted records of the climate evolution that dates back to at least 60,000 years ago.
The project forms part of the programme APEX (Arctic Palaeoclimate and its Extremes) that has been selected as a lead coordinating programme for palaeoclimate research within the IPYcluster.
Northern Eurasian ice sheet extent at 90,000 years ago with ice-dammed lakes and rerouting of drainage. Also the Quaternary glaciation limit is shown.
Research questions, hypothesis and choice of methods
Successful coring of lake floors that contain long sediment records will be a path-breaking achievement that may lead to a better understanding of the climate and environmental evolution and also to a reliable correlation with the marine record in the Arctic Ocean. Different approaches and questions that will be addressed through the proposed coring programme are outlined below.
The climate evolution through the last interglacial-glacial cycle
One target will be to obtain sediment cores that reach the last interglacial (130-115,000 years ago) and possibly even further back in time. Our previous investigations has revealed intriguing climatic shifts during the early part of the last ice age that will be tested out by further investigations. This include an exceptionally warm period at which time the summer climate was even warmer than today.
Satellite image from the Polar Urals showing local moraines and lakes, the latter being potential coring sites. Distal part of moraine and ice flow directions are marked. From Google Earth.
The number and stratigraphic position of ice-dammed lakes
Potentially, this project will enable us to determine how many ice-dammed lakes, and thus also how many expansions of the Barents-Kara Ice Sheet that have occurred since the last ice free period and to establish a more precise glacial chronology.
Glacial development of the Polar Urals
Our foregoing investigations have shown that the Urals were not covered by a continuous ice cap during the last ice age. Some extended valley- and piedmont glaciers existed at around 60,000 years ago. However, a surprising discovery was that the small cirque glaciers were only slightly larger during the Last Glacial Maximum (22-20,000 years ago) than today. It is proposed to test this hypothesis by collecting sediment cores from selected lakes, and refine the glacial chronology through identifying and dating melt-water deposits that originated from the upstream glaciers. Local glaciers can be reconstructed from lake sediments combined with geomorphological mapping. This will provide a direct linkage to temperature and precipitation variations.
Map showing the LGM ice sheet and European Palaeolithic sites, modified from Pavlov et al. (2001).
Humans and climate
From the sediment stratigraphy at the archaeological sites we have inferred that the periods with human occupation correspond with relatively favourable climatic conditions. During the peak of the last glaciation (25-15,000 years ago) a much colder and windier climate prevailed, and the landscape was much less productive. We intend to reconstruct the physical and biological environment before, during and after the recorded settling periods in order to asses the human adaptation to the physical environment.
The field investigations will be carried out as a joint effort by research teams from Bergen and from Russia. The coring will mainly be carried out during the winter seasons in 2007 and 2008, with additional field work during the summers. The core material will be shipped to Bergen for initial processing where several scientists and students will contribute to the analyses of this material. The field work, sediment analyses and interpretation of the core material will represent a scientific challenge that will contribute to develop the national research competence, both in Norway and Russia. This will represent a further development of the scientific collaboration which started 13 years ago.
Photo of the heavy drilling equipment used in previous coring from winter lake-ice in northern Russia.