Unlocking the Glacial History of the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica by Fingerprinting Glacial Tills with Detrital Zircon U-Pb Age Populations
Detrital Zircon in the MDV
The goal of this study is to identify and distinguish different source areas of glacial sediment in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica to determine past glacial flow direction. Understanding ice flow is critical for determining how the Antarctic Ice Sheets have behaved in the past. Such insight is fundamental for allowing scientists to predict how the Antarctic Ice Sheets will evolve and, in turn, forecast how much and how fast sea level may rise. The project study site, the McMurdo Dry Valleys, contain a tremendous record of glacial deposits on land that extends back at least 14 million years. Chemistry of the rocks within the glacial deposits hold clues to the sources of ice that deposited the material. The chemical analyses of the glacial deposits will allow mapping of the former extent of glaciations providing a better understand of ice flow history. The mapping of the largest ice sheet expansion of the past 14 million years in the McMurdo Dry Valleys is of broad interest to the global climate change community. Undergraduate students comprise the majority of the field teams and will be responsible for sample preparation and analysis in the laboratory.
This project utilizes new geochemical techniques to test hypotheses about the source, extent, and flow patterns of the glacier ice that deposited glacial tills in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica (MDV). The MDV contain an unparalleled terrestrial archive of glacial deposits, which record multiple sources of ice that deposited them. These include the northeast flowing ice that overrode the Transantarctic Mountains, the eastward expansion of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, the westward extension of the Ross Ice Shelf representing an expansion of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and the growth of local alpine glaciers. The glacial tills and drifts in the Antarctic are typically isolated in patches or disjointed outcrop patterns making it difficult to correlate tills and determine their source. This project will undertake a systematic study of the tills in the McMurdo Dry Valleys to determine their provenance with a variety of geochemical techniques including major and minor element analyses with X-ray fluorescence, heavy mineral composition, soil salt concentration, and determining the uranium-lead (U-Pb) ages of zircon sands contained in these tills. The primary tool will be the age distribution of the population of detrital zircon in a glacial drift because it reflects the source of the tills and provides a unique geochemical "fingerprint" used to distinguish source areas while correlating units across different sites. A deliverable from this project will be a community available library of zircon fingerprints for mapped glacial tills from archived samples at the Polar Rock Repository and the systematic collection of samples in the MDV.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
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