Lake sediments with Azorean tephra reveal ice-free conditions on coastal northwest Spitsbergen during the Last Glacial Maximum.
Lake sediments retrieved from the beds of former nonerosive ice sheets offer unique possibilities to constrain changes in the extent and style of past glaciation, and place them in an absolutely dated context. We present the first pre-Holocene lake sediments from Arctic Svalbard. Radiocarbon dating of terrestrial plant fossils reveals that the investigated catchment was unglaciated and vegetated between 30 and 20 ka B.P. during the global Last Glacial Maximum. The presence of volcanic ash from a contemporaneous Azorean eruption also provides evidence for ice-free conditions. Indicators of sediment compaction and a depositional hiatus suggest subsequent coverage by nonerosive ice until 11 ka B.P. Comparison with regional paleoclimate data indicates that sea ice variability controlled this pattern of ice sheet evolution by modulating moisture supply. Facing rapid regional sea ice losses, our findings have implications for the future response of the Arctic's cryosphere, a major driver of global sea-level rise.