Neogene glacigenic debris flows on James Ross Island, northern Antarctic Peninsula, and their implications for regional climate history
Detailed sedimentological and microtextural analyses of newly-discovered late Neogene diamictites and other coarse-grained facies, mostly sandwiched between hyaloclastite of the James Ross Island Volcanic Group and Cretaceous sandstone and mudstone, indicate deposition mainly by glacigenic debris flows. The deposits on James Ross Island (northern Antarctic Peninsula) constrain the depositional setting, ice–bed dynamics and regional palaeoclimate. The sequences on James Ross Island vary in age but are mainly late Miocene and Pliocene. Unlike Neogene sedimentary sequences elsewhere in Antarctica, those on James Ross Island are unusually well-dated by a combination of 40Ar/39Ar and 87Sr/86Sr analyses on fresh interbedded lavas and pristine bivalve molluscs, respectively. The Sr isotopic ages of the debris flows cluster around 4.74, 4.89, 5.44, 5.78, and 6.31 Ma and probably date relatively warm periods in the northern Antarctic Peninsula region, when the bivalves lived under ice-poor or seasonally ice-free conditions. The bivalves are often remarkably well-preserved, lack adhering lithified sediment and, in at least two locations, are large, mainly unfragmented and sometimes articulated, suggesting that they were alive immediately prior to their incorporation in subaqueous debris flows at the margins of an advancing glacier. These fossiliferous glacigenic debris flows signify episodes of ice expansion during relatively warm periods, or “interglacials”, of the late Miocene and Pliocene. The James Ross Island glacigenic sedimentary successions attain thicknesses of up to 150 m and extend over 4 km laterally. The high volume of glacigenic sediment delivery implicit in the James Ross Island successions indicates that a series of dynamic ice fronts crossed the region during the late Miocene and Pliocene epochs. Associated evidence, in the form of clast abrasion (including striations and faceting) and bedrock erosion, is indicative of basal sliding and subglacial sediment deformation active at the ice–bed interface and wet-based temperate or polythermal regimes, prior to remobilisation. The evidence further suggests two local ice caps on James Ross Island during the warm periods, as well as ice-overriding by the Antarctic Peninsula Ice Sheet from the west and northwest.