Seismic stratigraphic record of the Amundsen Sea Embayment shelf from pre-glacial to recent times: Evidence for a dynamic West Antarctic Ice Sheet

Studies of the sedimentary architecture and characteristics of the Antarctic continental margin provide clues about past ice sheet advance-retreat cycles and help improve constraints for paleo-ice dynamic models since early glacial periods. A first seismostratigraphic analysis of the Amundsen Sea Embayment shelf and slope of West Antarctica reveals insights into the structural architecture of the continental margin and shows stages of sediment deposition, erosion and transport reflecting the history from pre-glacial times to early glaciation and to the late Pleistocene glacial-interglacial cycles. The shelf geometry consists of a large pre- and syn-rift basin in the middle shelf region between basement cropping out on the inner shelf and buried basement ridge and highs on the outer shelf. A subordinate basin within the large basin on the mid-shelf may be associated with motion along an early West Antarctic Rift System branch. At least 4 km of pre-glacial strata have been eroded from the present inner shelf and coastal hinterland by glacial processes. Six major sedimentary units (ASS-1 to ASS-6) separated by five major erosional unconformities (ASS-u1 to ASS-u5) are distinguished from bottom to top. Unconformity ASS-u4 results from a major truncational event by glacial advance to the middle and outer shelf, which was followed by several episodes of glacial advance and retreat as observed from smaller-scale truncational unconformities within the units above ASS-u4. Some of the eroded sediments were deposited as a progradional wedge that extends the outer shelf by 25 to 65 km oceanward of the pre-glacial shelf-break. We compare the observed seismic characteristics with those of other Antarctic shelf sequences and assign an Early Cretaceous age to bottom sedimentary unit ASS-1, a Late Cretaceous to Oligocene age to unit ASS-2, an Early to Mid-Miocene age to unit ASS-3, a Mid-Miocene age to unit ASS-4, a Late Miocene to Early Pliocene age to unit ASS-5, and a Pliocene to Pleistocene age to the top unit ASS-6. Buried grounding zone wedges in the upper part of unit ASS-5 on the outer shelf suggest pronounced warming phases and ice sheet retreats during the early Pliocene as observed for the Ross Sea shelf and predicted by paleo-ice sheet models. Our data also reveal that on the middle and outer shelf the flow-path of the Pine Island-Thwaites paleo-ice stream system has remained stationary in the central Pine Island Trough since the earliest glacial advances, which is different from the Ross Sea shelf where glacial troughs shifted more dynamically. This study and its stratigraphic constraints will serve as a basis for future drilling operations required for an improved understanding of processes and mechanisms leading to change in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, such as the contemporary thinning and grounding line retreat in the Amundsen Sea drainage sector.


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Authors: Gohl, Karsten, Uenzelmann-Neben, Gabriele, Larter, Robert D. ORCIDORCID record for Robert D. Larter, Hillenbrand, Claus-Dieter ORCIDORCID record for Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand, Hochmuth, Katharina, Kalberg, Thomas, Weigelt, Estella, Davy, Bryan, Kuhn, Gerhard, Nitsche, Frank O.

On this site: Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand, Robert Larter
1 October, 2013
Marine Geology / 344
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