Plant survival in Iceland during periods of glaciation?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Aim: The paper addresses the classical question of possible plant survival in Iceland during the last glacial period in the light of a palaeobotanical record from northern Iceland, spanning the period 11,300-9000 BP, including the Younger Dryas stadial. We review the Late Cenozoic fossil plant record, the past debate on glacial plant refugia in Iceland, and the evidence for ice-free areas during the Weichselian. Location: The investigated lake sediment record comes from Lake Torfadalsvatn, which is situated in the northwestern part of the Skagi peninsula in northern Iceland. Methods: The sediment chronology was constructed from the occurrence of the Vedde Ash and the Saksunarvatn ash, two well-dated Icelandic tephras, together with the results from five AMS and conventional radiocarbon dates performed on bulk sediment samples. The vegetational reconstruction was based on detailed pollen analysis of the sediment sequence. Results: The pollen analysis revealed that many of the taxa present in the area prior to the Younger Dryas stadial continued to produce pollen during that cold event. The more or less immediate reappearance of a few other pollen taxa at the Younger Dryas-Preboreal boundary suggests that these plants also survived, even if they did not produce sufficient pollen to be recorded during the Younger Dryas stadial. Main conclusions: We conclude that the relatively high plant diversity found in high Arctic areas and present-day nunataks in Iceland and Greenland, together with the fact that many plant species were able to survive the Younger Dryas stadial on the Skagi peninsula, suggest that species with high tolerance for climate fluctuations also survived the whole Weichselian in Iceland. This conclusion is supported by recent palaeoclimatic data from ice-cores and deep-sea sediments, indicating that Icelandic climate during the last glacial was only occasionally slightly colder than during the Younger Dryas stadial.


External organisations
  • University of Gothenburg
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Climate Research
  • Environmental Sciences
  • Geology


  • Glaciation, Iceland, Palaeobotany, Refugia, Vegetation
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387-396
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Biogeography
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1999 Mar 1
Publication categoryResearch