Characterizing the sediment provenance of East Antarctica's weak underbelly: The Aurora and Wilkes sub-glacial basins

Elizabeth L. Pierce, Trevor Williams, Tina Van De Flierdt, Sidney R. Hemming, Steven L. Goldstein, Stefanie A. Brachfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


The Wilkes and Aurora basins are large, low-lying sub-glacial basins that may cause areas of weakness in the overlying East Antarctic ice sheet. Previous work based on ice-rafted debris (IRD) provenance analyses found evidence for massive iceberg discharges from these areas during the late Miocene and Pliocene. Here we characterize the sediments shed from the inferred areas of weakness along this margin (94E to 165E) by measuring 40Ar/ 39Ar ages of 292 individual detrital hornblende grains from eight marine sediment core locations off East Antarctica and Nd isotopic compositions of the bulk fine fraction from the same sediments. We further expand the toolbox for Antarctic IRD provenance analyses by exploring the application of 40Ar/39Ar ages of detrital biotites; biotite as an IRD tracer eliminates lithological biases imposed by only analyzing hornblendes and allows for characterization of samples with low IRD concentrations. Our data quadruples the number of detrital 40Ar/39Ar ages from this margin of East Antarctica and leads to the following conclusions: (1) Four main sectors between the Ross Sea and Prydz Bay, separated by ice drainage divides, are distinguishable based upon the combination of 40Ar/ 39Ar ages of detrital hornblende and biotite grains and the Nd of the bulk fine fraction; (2) 40Ar/39Ar biotite ages can be used as a robust provenance tracer for this part of East Antarctica; and (3) sediments shed from the coastal areas of the Aurora and Wilkes sub-glacial basins can be clearly distinguished from one another based upon their isotopic fingerprints.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberPA4217
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2011


Dive into the research topics of 'Characterizing the sediment provenance of East Antarctica's weak underbelly: The Aurora and Wilkes sub-glacial basins'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this