Collaborative Research: Relationship Between Subglacial Geology and Glacial Processes in West Antarctica: Petrological and Geochemical Analyses of Subglacial and Basal Sediments
This award, provided by the Antarctic Geology and Geophysics Program of the Office of Polar Programs, supports a collaborative research project between the University of California-Santa Cruz, the University of Texas-Austin, and the Ohio State University to investigate sediment samples recovered from the base of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). West Antarctica is a remote polar region but its dynamic ice sheet, complicated tectonic history, and the sedimentary record of Cenozoic glaciation make it of particular interest to glaciologists and geologists. Glaciologists are concerned with the possibility of significant near-future changes in mass balance of the WAIS that may contribute to the ongoing global sea level rise. Geologists are investigating in West Antarctica the fundamental process of continental extension and are constructing models of a polar marine depositional system using this region as the prime modern example. The subglacial part of West Antarctica has escaped direct geological investigations and all that is known about subglacial geology comes from geophysical remote sensing. Recent acquisitions of new, high-quality geophysical data have led to generation of several enticing models. For instance, subglacial presence of high-magnitude, short-wavelength magnetic anomalies has prompted the proposition that there may be voluminous (>1 million cubic km), Late Cenozoic flood basalts beneath the ice sheet. Another important model suggests that the patterns of fast ice streaming (~100 meters/year) and slow ice motion (~1-10 meters/year) observed within the WAIS are controlled by subglacial distribution of sedimentary basins and resistant bedrock. These new geophysics-based models should be tested with direct observations because they are of such great importance to our understanding of the West Antarctic tectonic history and to our ability to predict the future behavior of the WAIS.
This research is designed as a pilot study to provide new geologic data, which may help to test the recent models inferred from geophysical observations. The new constraints on subglacial geology and on its interactions with the WAIS will be obtained through petrological and geochemical analyses of basal and subglacial sediments collected previously from seven localities. This investigation will take place in the context of testing the following three hypotheses: (A) the provenance of bedrock clasts in the glacial sediment samples is primarily from West Antarctica, (B) some clasts and muds from the West Antarctic subglacial sediments have been derived by erosion of the (inferred) subglacial Late Cenozoic flood basalts, and (C) the sediments underlying the West Antarctic ice streams were generated by glacial erosion of preglacial sedimentary basins but the sediments recovered from beneath the slow-moving parts of the WAIS were produced through erosion of resistant bedrock.
The individual hypotheses will be tested by collecting data on: (A) petrology, geochemistry and age of granitoid clasts, (B) petrology, geochemistry and age of basaltic clasts combined with mud geochemistry, and (C) clay mineralogy/paragenesis combined with textural maturity of sand and silt grains. The results of these tests will help evaluate the interesting possibility that subglacial geology may have first-order control on the patterns of fast ice flow within the WAIS. The new data will also help to determine whether the subglacial portion of West Antarctica is a Late Cenozoic flood basalt province. By combining glaciological and geological aspects of West Antarctic research the proposed collaborative project will add to the ongoing U.S. effort to create a multidisciplinary understanding of this polar region.
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