Deglacial ocean and climate seasonality in laminated diatom sediments, Mac.Robertson Shelf, Antarctica

C. E. Stickley, J. Pike, A. Leventer, R. Dunbar, E. W. Domack, S. Brachfeld, P. Manley, C. McClennan

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65 Scopus citations


The palaeoceanography and climate history of the East Antarctic Margin (EAM) are less well understood than those of West Antarctica. Yet, the EAM plays an important role in deep ocean circulation and the global ocean system and has likely done so in the past. Deglacial-age marine sediments from the EAM provide clues about its past role during this critical period of rapid climate change. Several deep basins across the EAM such as Iceberg Alley (∼67°S, 63°E) on the Mac.Robertson Shelf (MRS) accommodate thick marine sequences that archive the deglaciation in the form of diatom-rich, continuously laminated (varved) sediments. These laminated sediments are pristinely preserved and contain seasonal and long-term information on the cryospheric and palaeoceanographic changes associated with the rapid retreat of the glacial ice sheet across the MRS. We present results of microfabric analysis of the lower ∼2 m of deglacial varves from jumbo piston core JPC43B (Iceberg Alley). Backscattered electron imagery (BSEI) of polished thin sections and scanning electron microscope secondary electron imagery (SEI) of lamina-parallel fracture surfaces are used to analyze the varves. One hundred and ninety-two laminations are investigated and their nature and temporal significance are discussed in terms of seasonal deposition and cyclicity of diatom species. Our high-resolution palaeodata record exceptionally high diatom production and silica flux associated with the retreat of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, and seasonal sea-ice changes along the EAM. This information is invaluable for assessing cryospheric-oceanographic variation and, therefore, the local and regional response to this period of rapid climate change. Varves are made up of lamina couplets comprising (i) thickly laminated to thinly bedded orange/orange-brown very pure diatom ooze dominated by Hyalochaete Chaetoceros spp. vegetative cells and resting spores, and (ii) brown/blue-grey terrigenous angular quartz sand, silt and clay with an abundant mixed diatom flora. The colour variation between these two types of lamination is striking. Using floristic and textural information we interpret the diatom oozes as spring flux and the terrigenous laminae as summer flux. Each couplet pair represents one annual cycle and reflects seasonal changes in nutrient availability and stratification associated with the cyclical advance and retreat of seasonal sea-ice. The diatom oozes can reach up to ∼7.5 cm in thickness indicating enormous silica flux to the sea floor associated with ice sheet retreat.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)290-310
Number of pages21
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 10 Nov 2005


  • Deglaciation
  • Diatoms
  • East Antarctic Margin
  • Marine varves
  • Sea-ice
  • Seasonality


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