Table Nunatak: a key outcrop of Upper Cretaceous shallow-marine strata in the southern Larsen Basin, Antarctic Peninsula
The northern, James Ross Island region of the Larsen Basin, on the eastern, back-arc margin of the Antarctic Peninsula magmatic arc, includes one of the thickest and most complete Upper Cretaceous sedimentary successions exposed in the Southern Hemisphere. However, the southern part of the basin remains poorly known, mainly owing to inaccessibility and lack of exposure. Table Nunatak, an isolated, 1-km-long, 400-m-wide outcrop at the tip of Kenyon Peninsula, is the only known exposure of Upper Cretaceous or younger strata in this region. The 62-m-thick succession exposed there is assigned to the newly defined Table Nunatak Formation. It consists mainly of sharp-based, amalgamated beds of fine-grained sandstone up to 2.8 m thick, with subordinate intervals of intensely bioturbated mudstone. Wave ripples are present at some levels, and locally developed swaley cross-stratification provides evidence for storm-generated combined-flow deposition. However, most sandstone beds appear to be internally structureless apart from normal grading, and are interpreted as the direct suspension deposits of highly sediment-charged storm- and/or flood-related flows. The succession represents relatively nearshore deposition, probably at the mouth of a river or deltaic distributary channel. Charcoalified plant debris, abundant at the tops of some sandstone beds, suggests a periodically wildfire-swept hinterland forested largely by coniferous trees. Dinoflagellate cyst assemblages indicate a late Santonian age, and suggest correlation with the basal part of the Lachman Crags Member of the Santa Marta Formation (Marambio Group) on James Ross Island. Palaeocurrents, sandstone petrography and the high sediment supply rate proposed for the Table Nunatak Formation, suggest a relatively high-relief source area to the west, with large-scale erosion of granitoid plutons and metamorphic rocks, possibly related to arc uplift during a mid-Cretaceous compressional episode. The formation is evidence of a major southward extension of the Upper Cretaceous strata exposed in the northern Larsen Basin, and suggests lateral continuity of shallow-marine deposition for at least 500–600 km along the Weddell Sea margin of the Antarctic Peninsula in Santonian times.