Morphology of the upper continental slope in the Bellingshausen and Amundsen Seas – implications for sedimentary processes at the shelf edge of West Antarctica

Swath bathymetric and sub-bottom profiler data reveal a variety of submarine landforms such as gullies, slide scars, subtle shelf edge-parallel ridges and elongated depressions, and small debris flows along the continental shelf break and upper slope of West Antarctica. Gullies cutting through debris flow deposits on the Belgica Trough Mouth Fan (TMF) suggest formation after full-glacial deposition on the continental slope. The gullies were most likely eroded by sediment-laden subglacial meltwater flows released from underneath the ice margin grounded at the shelf edge at the onset of deglaciation. Scarcity of subglacial meltwater flow features on the outer shelf suggests that the meltwater reached the shelf edge mainly either through the topmost layer of soft diamict or in the form of dispersed flow beneath the ice, although locally preserved erosional channels indicate that more focused and higher-energy flows also existed. Concentration of gullies on the upper continental slope in front of the marginal areas of the major cross-shelf troughs, as contrasted to their axial parts, is indicative of higher-energy gully-eroding processes there, possibly due to additional subglacial meltwater flow from beneath the slow moving ice lying over the higher banks of the troughs. The shallow and sinuous gully heads observed on the outermost shelf within the Pine Island West Trough may indicate postglacial modification by near-bed currents resulting either from the subglacial meltwater flow from underneath the ice margin positioned at some distance landward from the shelf edge, or from the currents formed by brine rejection during sea ice formation. On the continental slope outside major troughs, slide scars as well as shelf-edge parallel ridges and elongated depressions indicate an unstable and failure-prone uppermost slope, although failures were probably mainly associated with rapid sediment loading during glacial periods. Complex, cauliflower- and amphitheatre-shaped gully heads biting back into the shelf edge suggest upslope retrogressive, multi-stage small-scale sliding as a contributing factor to the formation of gullies in these areas. Small debris fans immediately downslope of the slide scars suggest that small-scale debris flows have been the main downslope sediment transfer processes in the areas of weak or absent subglacial meltwater flow. (C) 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Publication status:
Authors: Noormets, R., Dowdeswell, J.A., Larter, Robert D. ORCIDORCID record for Robert D. Larter, Ó Cofaigh, C., Evans, J.

On this site: Robert Larter
1 January, 2009
Marine Geology / 258
Link to published article: