Grains of dust in an ice core illustrate how fast a landscape is covered with ice after an ice age sets in.
Accurate estimates of the past extent of the Greenland ice sheet provide critical constraints for ice sheet models used to determine Greenland’s response to climate forcing and contribution to global sea level. Here we use a continuous ice core dust record from the Renland ice cap on the east coast of Greenland to constrain the timing of changes to the ice sheet margin and relative sea level over the last glacial cycle. During the Holocene and the previous interglacial period (Eemian) the dust record was dominated by coarse particles consistent with rock samples from central East Greenland. From the coarse particle concentration record we infer the East Greenland ice sheet margin advanced from 113.4 ± 0.4 to 111.0 ± 0.4 ka BP during the glacial onset and retreated from 12.1 ± 0.1 to 9.0 ± 0.1 ka BP during the last deglaciation. These findings constrain the possible response of the Greenland ice sheet to climate forcings.