Wrangel Island

The Late Pleistocene Glacial and Sea Level History of Wrangel Island, Northeast Siberia

The Tundra Academia, northern Wrangel Island.

Site of the best sauna on Wrangel Island. Mt. Tundrovaya is in the background.

More photos from the field season


The National Science Foundation/Arctic System Science Program
Russian-American Initiative on Shelf Environments (RAISE)

Why Wrangel Island?

The late Pleistocene record preserved on Wrangel Island provides evidence to test whether an East Siberian Ice Sheet (ESIS) existed during the LGM. There are multiple geologic implications for testing this hypothesis. Data taken from this work will be used to infer past and future climate evolution, the paleogeography of Beringia, sea level, and crust/mantle responses to changes in ice extent. Wrangel Island is the focus of this research because it would have been affected both directly and indirectly by a regional ice sheet; or it may have only been host to small valley glaciers.

Project Summary

One of the critical pieces missing from the analysis of the last glacial maximum (LGM) is the extent and configuration of the Arctic ice sheets. In addition to their importance in the physical elements of the earth’s system, the extent and chronology of glaciation in the Arctic has played a significant role in shaping the modern distribution and composition of modern high latitude flora and fauna. Of all Northern Hemisphere ice sheets, perhaps none has been more controversial than that proposed to cover the East Siberia Sea. A marine-based ESIS has been suggested by some workers and used in climate models; however, there has been little investigation of the glacial geology along the proposed ice sheet’s eastern margin: Wrangel Island. It would greatly improve our understanding of differences in ice extent between western and eastern Arctic Russia to know if the East Siberian Sea (913,000 sq. mi.) was either covered by sea ice, permafrost, or a 1500 m thick marine-based ice sheet during the LGM.

We are studying the glacial history of Wrangel Island, the area which would be most affected by an ice sheet in the East Siberian Sea, in order to provide the first field evidence to test whether an ice sheet covered Wrangel Island during the LGM or earlier, or Wrangel Island was uncovered, but lay in the peripheral depression of an ESIS. These alternatives are being explored by providing the first radiometric sea level and glacial chronology for Wrangel Island using radiocarbon, GC amino acid, 10Be, 26Al and 36Cl cosmogenic isotope dating. Samples were also taken for palynological analysis in order to assess differences in glacial or interglacial vegetation through the late Quaternary. The main geographic focus of the study is the northern coastal plain (2000) and the interior mountains and river valleys (2001).

Publications resulting from this research

Gualtieri, L., Vartanyan, S., Brigham-Grette, J., and Anderson, P. 2003. Pleistocene raised marine deposits on Wrangel Island, northeast Siberia and Implications for the Presence of an East Siberian Ice Sheet. Quaternary Research 59 (3): 399-410.

Gualtieri, L., Vartanyan, S., Anderson, P. and Brigham-Grette, J. 2002. Limited Ice in northern Beringia during the Last Glacial Maximum. AMQUA Meeting. Anchorage, Alaska.

Gualtieri, L., Vartanyan, S., Anderson, P. and Brigham-Grette, J. 2002. The Glacial and Sea Level History of Wrangel Island, NE Siberia. ARCSS All-Hands Meeting. February 20. Seattle, WA.

Gualtieri, L., Vartanyan, S., Brigham-Grette, J. and Anderson, P. 2001. Tors, Eustatic Shorelines, and Mammoths: Evidence Against Ice Sheets on Wrangel Island, East Siberian & Chukchi Seas. American Geophysical Union, Program and Abstracts 2001. December 11. San Francisco, CA.

Gualtieri, L., Anderson, P., Brigham-Grette, J. and Vartanyan, S. 2001. Did Ice Exist on the Chukchi Shelf During the Last Glacial Maximum? Geological Society of America, Program and Abstracts 2001. November 8. Boston, MA.

Gualtieri, L., Vartanyan, S., Anderson, P. and Brigham-Grette, J. 2001. The (Non)-Glacial and Sea Level History of Wrangel Island, Northeast Siberia. 31st International Arctic Workshop, Program and Abstracts, 2001. Department of Geosciences, University of Massachusetts, pp. 44-45.


Quaternary Research Center, University of Washington
Beringian Research at University of Massachusetts
Paleoenvironmental Atlas of Beringia
The American Museum of Natural History Wrangel Island Mammoth Project
Beringian Interpretative Centre