Stability of Landscapes and Ice Sheets in Dry Valleys, Antarctica: A Systematic Study of Exposure Ages of Soils and Surface Deposits
This work will study cosmogenic isotope profiles of rock and sediment in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica to understand their origin. The results will provide important constraints on the history of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. The near-perfect preservation of volcanic ash and overlying sediments suggests that hyperarid cold conditions have prevailed in the Dry Valleys for over 10 Myr. The survival of these sediments also suggests that warm-based ice has not entered the valley system and ice sheet expansion has been minimal. Other evidence, however, suggests that the Dry Valleys have experienced considerably more sediment erosion than generally believed: 1) the cosmogenic exposure ages of boulders and bedrock in the Valleys all show generally younger ages than volcanic ash deposits used to determine minimum ages of moraines and drifts, 2) there appears to be a discrepancy between the suggested extreme preservation of unconsolidated slope deposits (>10 Myr) and adjacent bedrock that has eroded 2.6-6 m during the same time interval. The fact that the till and moraine exposure ages generally post date the overlying volcanic ash deposits could reflect expansion of continental ice sheet into the Dry Valleys with cold-based ice, thus both preserving the landscape and shielding the surfaces from cosmic radiation. Another plausible explanation of the young cosmogenic exposure ages is erosion of the sediments and gradual exhumation of formerly buried boulders to the surface. Cosmogenic isotope systematics are especially well suited to address these questions. We will measure multiple cosmogenic isotopes in profiles of rock and sediment to determine the minimum exposure ages, the degree of soil stability or mixing, and the shielding history of surfaces by cold based ice. We expect to obtain unambiguous minimum ages for deposits. In addition, we should be able to identify areas disturbed by periglacial activity, constrain the timing of such activity, and account for the patchy preservation of important stratigraphic markers such as volcanic ash. The broader impacts of this project include graduate and undergraduate education, and improving our understanding of the dynamics of Southern Hemisphere climate on timescales of millions of years, which has major implications for understanding the controls and impacts of global climate change.
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