Sand dunes and Holocene environmental change in the European Arctic (northern Sweden, Finland and Norway; part of Sápmi)

Text by Melanie Stammler

In spring 2023 the project proposal „Sand dunes and Holocene environmental change in the European Arctic (ArcDune)“ was successfully funded by the Deep-time Digital Earth (DDE) program.

ArcDune Logo
© Irene Johannsen/GIUB

The DDE is a science program of the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS), which follows the mission to foster data-driven discovery in understanding the Earth’s evolution. The seed grant allows for the project to run for three years, with a start date in summer 2023. The research is carried out in cooperation with Daniel Hölbling (Paris Lodron University Salzburg) and Thomas Stevens (Uppsala University). Current climate change in the Arctic is unpreceded in the instrumental record, with profound consequences for the environment and landscape on both regional and global scales. Understanding past landscape (in)stability and evolution in this sensitive area is essential for understanding the response of the Arctic to current and future climate change impacts. This understanding starts with accurate and detailed mapping. Semi-automatic data-driven analysis provides a mechanism for efficient investigation of large areas.

In the European Arctic, aeolian sand dunes have been affected by climatic changes since their initial formation after the retreat of the last glacial ice sheet. Dune orientation is driven by prevailing wind direction during stabilization, while the form and stratigraphy of dunes is a function of climate-driven reworking events. We integrate a geomorphological interpretation of the mapping, stratigraphic analysis, and independent dating to systematically test the suitability of dues as climate archives, as local scale fires and destabilization events may overprint wider climate forcing.

In this project, we

  • develop a systematic, semi-automatic mapping approach to produce a regional polygon-based inventory of aeolian sand dunes in the European Arctic,
  • interpret the distribution and orientation of mapped dunes within geomorphic settings in terms of sediment sources, sand transport vectors (wind directions) and reworking history,
  • apply radiocarbon and luminescence dating techniques to constrain the timing of dune stabilization and reworking events, and
  • combine the mapping interpretation with geochronological data to constrain the history and nature of dune reworking, and link to possible (climatic or other) causes via data mining of existing North Atlantic/Arctic past climate data.

This interdisciplinary approach will be the first to comprehensively map Arctic dunes and systematically analyse the evolution of these dunes in relation to wider climate and landscape change. It provides new opportunities in deciphering landform reactions to climate change over the Holocene in an area highly prone to climatically forced changes and already today outpacing climate change predictions.

For further information, please contact:

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Melanie Stammler

Phd Sudent
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