U-Series Comminution Age Constraints on Taylor Valley Erosion
The primary scientific goal of the proposed project is to test whether Taylor Valley, Antarctica has experienced glacial incision in the last ~1 million years in spite of cold climate conditions. One of the Dry Valleys of the Transantarctic Mountains, Taylor Valley exhibits over 2000 m of relief from sub sea-level troughs to high polar peaks. The Dry Valleys are characterized by low mean annual temperatures, paucity of precipitation and erosion that has allowed fragile glacial landforms, now subaerially exposed at high elevations, to be preserved for as long as 15 Ma. Two end member models can explain the timing of glacial incision and the observation that Quaternary advances of Taylor Glacier have left deposits at lower valley elevations with each advance. In the first scenario, all Valley relief is generated prior to 15 Ma when non-polar climates enabled warm-based glaciers to incise and widen fluvial channels more so than peaks. In this case, Quaternary drift deposits record advances of cold-based glaciers of decreasing ice volume. Limited glacial erosion and silt generation results in drift deposits composed primarily of recycled sediments. In the second scenario, selective erosion of the valley floor continues to deepen Taylor Valley over the last 2 Ma while high elevation peaks remain uneroded in polar conditions. The ‘bathtub rings’ of Quaternary drifts reaching a progressively lower elevation through time could be due to the lowering of the valley floor by subglacial erosion and with it, production of silt which is now incorporated into these drifts. While either scenario would result in the present day topography, they differ in the implied evolution of regional glacial ice volume over time and the timing of both valley relief production and generation of fine-grained particles. Here we propose to distinguish between these two models, by placing time constrains on fine particle production using U-series comminution dating. This new geochronologic tool exploits the loss of 234U due to alpha-recoil. The deficiency in 234U only becomes detectable in particles with a sufficiently high surface-area-to-volume ratio which can incur appreciable 234U loss (<50 m). The timing of comminution and particle size controls the magnitude of 234U loss, up to 10% in silt-sized particles comminuted over 1.5 million years ago. And while this geochronologic tool is in its infancy, the scientific goal of this proposal can be achieved by resolving between ancient and recently comminuted fine particles, a binary question that our preliminary modeling and measured data show is readily resolved.
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