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Data from: Rates and processes of aeolian soil erosion in West Greenland

Cite this dataset

Heindel, Ruth C.; Culler, Lauren E.; Virginia, Ross A. (2017). Data from: Rates and processes of aeolian soil erosion in West Greenland [Dataset]. Dryad.


In arid landscapes across the globe, aeolian processes are key drivers of landscape change, but arid Arctic regions are often overlooked. In the Kangerlussuaq region of West Greenland, strong katabatic winds have removed discrete patches of soil and vegetation, exposing unproductive glacial till and bedrock. Although lake-sediment records suggest that landscape destabilization began approximately 1000 years ago, the upland soil erosion has never been directly dated. We use a novel application of lichenometry to estimate the rates and timing of soil erosion. We show that the formation of deflation patches occurred approximately 800–230 years ago, in general agreement with lake-sediment records. In West Greenland, the ‘Little Ice Age’ (AD 1350–1880) was characterized by a cold and arid climate, conditions that increased susceptibility to erosion. On average, deflation patches are expanding at a rate of 2.5 cm yr−1, and variation in the rate of patch expansion cannot be explained by proximity to the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS), slope, aspect, elevation, or patch size. An erosional threshold exists in this aeolian system, with climate conditions necessary for patch formation likely harsher than those necessary for continued patch expansion, a result that has implications for land management in arid regions. Currently, deflation patches are expanding throughout the study region and are forming in areas close to the GrIS, but future deflation rates are dependent on projected climate and potential land-use changes. Our results stress the importance of aeolian processes in arid polar landscapes such as Kangerlussuaq, and demonstrate the use of aeolian landforms in paleoclimate reconstructions and predicting future landscape change.

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National Science Foundation, Award: 0801490