Sedimentation on the continental rise west of the Antarctic Peninsula over the last three glacial cycles
The continental rise west of the Antarctic Peninsula includes a number of large sediment mounds interpreted as contourite drifts. Cores from six sediment drifts spanning some 650 km of the margin and 4° of latitude have been dated using chemical and isotopic tracers of palaeoproductivity and diatom biostratigraphy. Interglacial sedimentation rates range from 1.1 to 4.3 cm/ka. Glacial sedimentation rates range from 1.8 to 13.5 cm/ka, and decrease from proximal to distal sites on each drift. Late Quaternary sedimentation was cyclic, with brown, biogenic, burrowed mud containing ice-rafted debris (IRD) in interglacials and grey, barren, laminated mud in glacials. Foraminiferal intervals occur in interglacial stages 5 and 7 but not in the Holocene. Processes of terrigenous sediment supply during glacial stages differed; meltwater plumes were more important in stages 2–4, turbidity currents and ice-rafting in stage 6. The terrigenous component shows compositional changes along the margin, more marked in glacials. The major oxides Al2O3 and K2O are higher in the southwest, and CaO and TiO2 higher in the northeast. There is more smectite among the clay minerals in the northeast. Magnetic susceptibility varies along and between drifts. These changes reflect source variations along the margin. Interglacial sediments show less clear trends, and their IRD was derived from a wider area. Downslope processes were dominant in glacials, but alongslope processes may have attained equal importance in interglacials. The area contrasts with the East Antarctic continental slope in the SE Weddell Sea, where ice-rafting is the dominant process and where interglacial sedimentation rates are much higher than glacial. The differences in glacial setting and margin physiography can account for these contrasts.