Collaborative Research: Late Paleozoic-Mesozoic Fauna, Environment, Climate and Basinal History: Beardmore Glacier Area, Transantarctic Mountains
This award, provided by the Antarctic Geology and Geophysics Program of the Office of Polar Programs, provides funds for a study to investigate paleoenvironmental conditions during the late Paleozoic and Mesozoic in central interior Antarctica. The 4 km thick sequence of sedimentary rocks, known as the Beacon Supergroup, in the Beardmore Glacier area records 90 million years of Permian through Jurassic history of this high-paleolatitude sector of Gondwana. It accumulated in a foreland basin with a rate of subsidence approximately equal to the rate of deposition. The deposits have yielded diverse vertebrate fossils, in situ fossil forests, and exceptionally well preserved plant fossils. They give a unique glimpse of glacial, lake, and stream/river environments and ecosystems and preserve an unparalleled record of the depositional, paleoclimatic, and tectonic history of the area. The excellent work done to date provides a solid base of information on which to build understanding of conditions and processes.
This project is a collaborative study of this stratigraphic section that will integrate sedimentologic, paleontologic, and ichnologic observations to answer focused questions, including: (1) What are the stratigraphic architecture and alluvial facies of Upper Permian to Jurassic rocks in the Beardmore area?; (2) In what tectonostratigraphic setting were these rocks deposited?; (3) Did vertebrates inhabit the cold, near-polar, Permian floodplains, as indicated by vertebrate burrows, and can these burrows be used to identify, for the first time, the presence of small early mammals in Mesozoic deposits?; and (4) How did bottom-dwelling animals in lakes and streams use substrate ecospace, how did ecospace use at these high paleolatitudes differ from ecospace use in equivalent environments at low paleolatitudes, and what does burrow distribution reveal about seasonality of river flow and thus about paleoclimate? Answers to these questions will (1) clarify the paleoclimatic, basinal, and tectonic history of this part of Gondwana, (2) elucidate the colonization of near-polar ecosystems by vertebrates, (3) provide new information on the environmental and paleolatitudinal distributions of early mammals, and (4) allow semi-quantitative assessment of the activity and abundance of bottom-dwelling animals in different freshwater environments at high and low latitudes. In summary, this project will contribute significantly to an understanding of paleobiology and paleoecology at a high latitude floodplain setting during a time in Earth history when the climate was much different than today.
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