Observations on “cryoplanation” benches in Antarctica
A series of benches on nunataks of Alexander Island (Antarctica) are described. An increase in bench size with distance away from the retreating glacier suggests an age spectrum. The benches have thermal contraction cracks (in bedrock) on shallower, upper sections of the risers as well as salt encrusted runnels on the steeper lower section of the tread. The benches also show a distinct orientational preference (orientated to the north through to west) and, from first principles, these seem to be the aspects with optimal freeze-thaw cycles and temperatures conducive to thermal stress fatigue. The extensive dilatation associated with the retreating glaciers is thought to play a significant role in the origin and development of the benches as the combination of extensive jointing and optimal process conditions are thought to constrain where benches begin. The jointing, aided by the thermal contraction cracking, then facilitates extension and continued weathering of the treads. It would appear that these benches are examples of so called “cryoplanation terraces” that have been reported as fossil forms in Europe and North America. The study of such active forms in the Antarctic may provide good analogues for fossil features found in the Northern Hemisphere.