Project Information
Collaborative Research: Activation of high-elevation alluvial fans in the Transantarctic Mountains - a proxy for Plio-Pleistocene warmth along East Antarctic ice margins
Start Date:
End Date:
Intellectual Merit:
The PIs propose to address the question of whether ice surface melting zones developed at high elevations during warm climatic phases in the Transantarctic Mountains. Evidence from sediment cores drilled by the ANDRILL program indicates that open water in the Ross Sea could have been a source of warmth during Pliocene and Pleistocene. The question is whether marine warmth penetrated inland to the ice sheet margins. The glacial record may be ill suited to answer this question, as cold-based glaciers may respond too slowly to register brief warmth. Questions also surround possible orbital controls on regional climate and ice sheet margins. Northern Hemisphere insolation at obliquity and precession timescales is thought to control Antarctic climate through oceanic or atmospheric connections, but new thinking suggests that the duration of Southern Hemisphere summer may be more important. The PIs propose to use high elevation alluvial deposits in the Transantarctic Mountains as a proxy for inland warmth. These relatively young fans, channels, and debris flow levees stand out as visible evidence for the presence of melt water in an otherwise ancient, frozen landscape. Based on initial analyses of an alluvial fan in the Olympus Range, these deposits are sensitive recorders of rare melt events that occur at orbital timescales. For their study they will 1) map alluvial deposits using aerial photography, satellite imagery and GPS assisted field surveys to establish water sources and to quantify parameters effecting melt water production, 2) date stratigraphic sequences within these deposits using OSL, cosmogenic nuclide, and interbedded volcanic ash chronologies, 3) use paired nuclide analyses to estimate exposure and burial times, and rates of deposition and erosion, and 4) use micro and regional scale climate modeling to estimate paleoenvironmental conditions associated with melt events.

Broader impacts:
This study will produce a record of inland melting from sites adjacent to ice sheet margins to help determine controls on regional climate along margins of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet to aid ice sheet and sea level modeling studies. The proposal will support several graduate and undergraduates. A PhD student will be supported on existing funding. The PIs will work with multiple K 12 schools to conduct interviews and webcasts from Antarctica and they will make follow up visits to classrooms after the field season is complete.
Person Role
Willenbring, Jane Investigator
Antarctic Earth Sciences Award # 1043554
AMD - DIF Record(s)
Data Management Plan
None in the Database
Product Level:
1 (processed data)
  1. Valletta, R. D., Willenbring, J. K., Passchier, S., & Elmi, C. (2018). 10Be/9Be Ratios Reflect Antarctic Ice Sheet Freshwater Discharge During Pliocene Warming. Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology, 33(9), 934–944. (doi:10.1029/2017pa003283)
  2. Valletta, R. D., Willenbring, J. K., & Lewis, A. R. (2017). “Difference Dating”: A novel approach towards dating alpine glacial moraines. Quaternary Geochronology, 41, 1–10. (doi:10.1016/j.quageo.2017.05.001)
Platforms and Instruments

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