Skip to main content Accessibility help

Provenance changes between recent and glacial-time sediments in the Amundsen Sea embayment, West Antarctica: clay mineral assemblage evidence

  • Werner Ehrmann (a1), Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand (a2), James A. Smith (a2), Alastair G.C. Graham (a2), Gerhard Kuhn (a3) and Robert D. Larter (a2)...


The Amundsen Sea embayment is a probable site for the initiation of a future collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. This paper contributes to a better understanding of the transport pathways of subglacial sediments into this embayment at present and during the last glacial period. It discusses the clay mineral composition of sediment samples taken from the seafloor surface and marine cores in order to decipher spatial and temporal changes in the sediment provenance. The most striking feature in the present-day clay mineral distribution is the high concentration of kaolinite, which is mainly supplied by the Thwaites Glacier system and indicates the presence of hitherto unknown kaolinite-bearing sedimentary strata in the hinterland, probably in the Byrd Subglacial Basin. The main illite input is via the Pine Island Glacier. Smectite originates from the erosion of volcanic rocks in Ellsworth Land and western Marie Byrd Land. The clay mineral assemblages in diamictons deposited during the last glacial period are distinctly different from those in corresponding surface sediments. This relationship indicates that glacial sediment sources were different from modern ones, which could reflect changes in the catchment areas of the glaciers and ice streams.


Corresponding author


Hide All
Anandakrishnan, S. Winberry, J.P. 2004. Antarctic subglacial sedimentary layer thickness from receiver function analysis. Global and Planetary Change, 42, 167176.
Bamber, J.L., Riva, R.E.M., Vermeersen, B.L.A. LeBrocq, A.M. 2009. Reassessment of the potential sea level rise from a collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Science, 324, 901903.
Bell, R.E., Studinger, M., Karner, G., Finn, C.A. Blankenship, D.A. 2006. Identifying major sedimentary basins beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet from aeromagnetic data analysis. In Fütterer, D.K., Damaske, D., Kleinschmidt, G., Miller, H. & Tessensohn, F., eds. Antarctica: contributions to global earth sciences. Berlin: Springer, 117121.
Biscaye, P.E. 1964. Distinction between kaolinite and chlorite in recent sediments by X-ray diffraction. The American Mineralogist, 49, 12811289.
Biscaye, P.E. 1965. Mineralogy and sedimentation of recent deep-sea clay in the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas and oceans. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 76, 803832.
Chamley, H. 1989. Clay sedimentology. Berlin: Springer, 623 pp.
Clarke, T.S., Burkholder, P.D., Smithson, S.B. Bentley, C.R. 1997. Optimum seismic shooting and recording parameters and a preliminary crustal model for the Byrd Subglacial Basin, Antarctica. In Ricci, C.A., ed. The Antarctic region: geological evolution and processes. Siena: Terra Antartica Publications, 485493.
Conway, H. Rasmussen, L.A. 2009. Recent thinning and migration of the western divide, central West Antarctica. Geophysical Research Letters, 36, 10.1029/2009GL038072.
Dingle, R.V. Lavelle, M. 1998. Late Cretaceous–Cenozoic climatic variations of the northern Antarctic Peninsula: new geochemical evidence and review. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 141, 215232.
Domack, E.W., Jacobson, E.A., Shipp, S. Anderson, J.B. 1999. Late Pleistocene–Holocene retreat of the West Antarctic ice sheet system in the Ross Sea: Part 2. Sedimentologic and stratigraphic signature. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 111, 15171536.
Dunbar, N.W., McIntosh, W.C. Esser, R.P 2008. Physical setting and tephrochronology of the summit caldera ice record at Mount Moulton, West Antarctica. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 120, 796812.
Ehrmann, W., Melles, M., Kuhn, G. Grobe, H. 1992. Significance of clay mineral assemblages in the Southern Ocean. Marine Geology, 107, 249273.
Esquevin, J. 1969. Influence de la composition chimique des illites sur leur cristallinité. Bulletin du Centre de Recherches de Pau, Société Nationale des Pétroles d'Aquitaine, 3, 147153.
Evans, J. Pudsey, C.J. 2002. Sedimentation associated with Antarctic Peninsula ice shelves: implications for palaeoenvironmental reconstructions of glacimarine sediments. Journal of the Geological Society, 159, 233238.
Evans, J., Dowdeswell, J.A., Ó Cofaigh, C., Benham, T.J. Anderson, J.B. 2006. Extent and dynamics of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet on the outer continental shelf of Pine Island Bay during the last glaciation. Marine Geology, 230, 5372.
Fagel, N. 2007. Clay minerals, deep circulation and climate. Developments in Marine Geology, 1, 139184.
Forsberg, C.F., Florindo, F., Grützner, J., Venuti, A. Solheim, A. 2008. Sedimentation and aspects of glacial dynamics from physical properties, mineralogy and magnetic properties at ODP Sites 1166 and 1167, Prydz Bay, Antarctica. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 260, 184201.
Gingele, F.X., Kuhn, G., Maus, B., Melles, M. Schöne, T. 1997. Holocene ice retreat from the Lazarev Sea shelf, East Antarctica. Continental Shelf Research, 17, 137163.
Graham, A.G.C., Larter, R.D., Gohl, K., Hillenbrand, C.-D., Smith, J.A. Kuhn, G. 2009. Bedform signature of a West Antarctic palaeo-ice stream reveals a multi-temporal record of flow and substrate control. Quaternary Science Reviews, 28, 27742793.
Graham, A.G.C., Larter, R.D., Gohl, K., Dowdeswell, J.A., Hillenbrand, C.-D., Smith, J.A., Evans, J., Kuhn, G. Deen, T. 2010. Flow and retreat of the Late Quaternary Pine Island–Thwaites palaeo-ice stream, West Antarctica. Journal of Geophysical Research, 115, 10.1029/2009JF001482.
Hallet, G., Hunter, L. Bogen, J. 1996. Rates of erosion and sediment evacuation by glaciers: a review of field data and their implications. Global and Planetary Change, 12, 213235.
Hillenbrand, C.-D. Ehrmann, W. 2002. Distribution of clay minerals in drift sediments on the continental rise west of the Antarctic Peninsula, ODP Leg 178, Sites 1095 and 1096. In Barker, P.F., Camerlenghi, A., Acton, G.D. & Ramsay, A.T.S., eds. Proceedings of the Ocean Drilling Program, Scientific Results, 178, 1–29.
Hillenbrand, C.-D., Kuhn, G. Frederichs, T. 2009a. Record of a Mid-Pleistocene depositional anomaly in West Antarctic continental margin sediments: an indicator for ice sheet collapse? Quaternary Science Reviews, 28, 11471159.
Hillenbrand, C.-D., Fütterer, D.K., Grobe, H. Frederichs, T. 2002. No evidence for a Pleistocene collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet from continental margin sediments recovered in the Amundsen Sea. Geo-Marine Letters, 22, 5159.
Hillenbrand, C.-D., Grobe, H., Diekmann, B., Kuhn, G. Fütterer, D.K. 2003. Distribution of clay minerals and proxies for productivity in surface sediments of the Bellingshausen and Amundsen seas (West Antarctica) - relation to modern environmental conditions. Marine Geology, 193, 253271.
Hillenbrand, C.-D., Ehrmann, W., Larter, R.D., Benetti, S., Dowdeswell, J.A., Ó Cofaigh, C., Graham, A.G.C. Grobe, H. 2009b. Clay mineral provenance of sediments in the southern Bellingshausen Sea reveals drainage changes of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet during the Late Quaternary. Marine Geology, 265, 118.
Hillenbrand, C.-D., Smith, J.A., Kuhn, G., Esper, O., Gersonde, R., Larter, R.D., Maher, B., Moreton, S.G., Shimmield, T.M. Korte, M. 2010. Age assignment of a diatomaceous ooze deposited in the western Amundsen Sea embayment after the Last Glacial Maximum. Journal of Quaternary Science, 25, 280295.
Holt, J.W., Blankenship, D.D., Morse, D.L., Young, D.A., Peters, M.E., Kempf, S.D., Richter, T.G., Vaughan, D.G. Corr, H.F.J. 2006. New boundary conditions for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet: subglacial topography of the Thwaites and Smith glacier catchments. Geophysical Research Letters, 33, 10.1029/2005GL025561.
Iizuka, Y., Miura, H., Iwasaki, S., Maemoku, H., Sawagaki, T., Greve, R., Satake, H., Sasa, K. Matsushi, Y. 2010. Evidence of past migration of the ice divide between the Shirase and Sôya drainage basins derived from chemical characteristics. Journal of Glaciology, 56, 395404.
Larter, R.D., Graham, A.G.C., Gohl, K., Kuhn, G., Hillenbrand, C.-D., Smith, J.A., Deen, T.J. Schenke, H.-W. 2009. Subglacial bedforms reveal complex basal regime in a zone of paleo-ice stream convergence, Amundsen Sea embayment, West Antarctica. Geology, 37, 411414.
LeMasurier, W.E. 2008. Neogene extension and basin deepening in the West Antarctic rift inferred from comparisons with the East African rift and other analogs. Geology, 36, 247250.
LeMasurier, W.E. Rex, D.C. 1991. The Marie Byrd Land volcanic province and its relation to the Cainozoic West Antarctic rift system. In Tingey, R.J., ed. The geology of Antarctica. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 249284.
LeMasurier, W.E. Thomson, J.G., eds. 1990. Volcanoes of the Antarctic plate and the Southern Ocean. Antarctic Research Series, 48, 512 pp.
Licht, K.J., Dunbar, N.W., Andrews, J.T. Jennings, A.E. 1999. Distinguishing subglacial till and glacial marine diamictons in the western Ross Sea, Antarctica: implications for a last glacial maximum grounding line. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 111, 91103.
Lowe, A.L. Anderson, J.B. 2002. Reconstruction of the West Antarctic ice sheet in Pine Island Bay during the Last Glacial Maximum and its subsequent retreat history. Quaternary Science Reviews, 21, 18791897.
Lowe, A.L. Anderson, J.B. 2003. Evidence for abundant subglacial meltwater beneath the paleo-ice sheet in Pine Island Bay, Antarctica. Journal of Glaciology, 49, 125138.
Mukasa, S.B. Dalziel, I.W.D. 2000. Marie Byrd Land, West Antarctica: evolution of Gondwana's Pacific margin constrained by zircon U-Pb geochronology and feldspar common-Pb isotopic compositions. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 112, 611627.
Nayudu, Y.R. 1971. Lithology and chemistry of surface sediments in sub-Antarctic regions of the Pacific Ocean. Antarctic Research Series, 15, 247282.
Neumann, T.A., Conway, H., Price, S.F., Waddington, E.D., Catania, G.A. Morse, D.L. 2008. Holocene accumulation and ice sheet dynamics in central West Antarctica. Journal of Geophysical Research, 113, 10.1029/2007JF000764.
Ó Cofaigh, C., Dowdeswell, J.A., Allen, C.S., Hiemstra, J., Pudsey, C.J., Evans, J. Evans, D.J.A. 2005. Flow dynamics and till genesis associated with a marine-based Antarctic palaeo-ice stream. Quaternary Science Reviews, 24, 709740.
Oppenheimer, M. 1998. Global warming and the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Nature, 393, 325332.
Pankhurst, R.J., Weaver, S.D., Bradshaw, J.D., Storey, B.C. Ireland, T.R. 1998. Geochronology and geochemistry of pre-Jurassic superterranes in Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica. Journal of Geophysical Research, 103, 25292547.
Petschick, R. 2001. MacDiff 4.2.5 Freeware. Frankfurt am Main: Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University.
Petschick, R., Kuhn, G. Gingele, F. 1996. Clay mineral distribution in surface sediments of the South Atlantic: sources, transport, and relation to oceanography. Marine Geology, 130, 203229.
Pritchard, H.D., Arthern, R.J., Vaughan, D.G. Edwards, L.A. 2009. Extensive dynamic thinning on the margins of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Nature, 461, 971975.
Reinardy, B.T.I., Pudsey, C.J., Hillenbrand, C.-D., Murray, T. Evans, J. 2009. Contrasting sources for glacial and interglacial shelf sediments used to interpret changing ice flow directions in the Larsen Basin, northern Antarctic Peninsula. Marine Geology, 266, 156171.
Rignot, E. Jacobs, S.S. 2002. Rapid bottom melting widespread near Antarctic Ice Sheet grounding lines. Science, 296, 20202023.
Rignot, E., Bamber, J.L., van Den Broeke, M.R., Davis, C., Li, Y., van De Berg, W.J. van Meijgaard, E. 2008. Recent Antarctic ice mass loss from radar interferometry and regional climate modelling. Nature Geoscience, 1, 106110.
Robert, C. Maillot, H. 1990. Paleoenvironments in the Weddell Sea area and Antarctic climates, as deduced from clay mineral associations and geochemical data, ODP Leg 113. In Barker, P.F., Kennett, J.P. et al., eds. Proceedings of the Ocean Drilling Program, Scientific Results, 113, 51–66.
Schoof, C. 2007. Ice sheet grounding line dynamics: steady states, stability and hysteresis. Journal of Geophysical Research, 112, 10.1029/2006JF000664.
Smith, J.A., Hillenbrand, C.-D., Larter, R.D., Graham, A.G.C. Kuhn, G. 2009. The sediment infill of subglacial meltwater channels on the West Antarctic continental shelf. Quaternary Research, 71, 190200.
Smith, J.A., Hillenbrand, C.-D., Kuhn, G., Larter, R.D., Graham, A.G.C., Ehrmann, W., Moreton, S.G. Forwick, M. 2011. Deglacial history of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet in the western Amundsen Sea embayment. Quaternary Science Reviews, 30, 488505.
Storey, B.C., Pankhurst, R.J., Millar, I.L., Dalziel, I.W.D. Grunow, A.M. 1991. A new look at the geology of Thurston Island. In Thomson, M.R.A., Crame, J.A. & Thomson, J.W., eds. Geological evolution of Antarctica. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 399403.
Studinger, M., Bell, R.E., Blankenship, D.D., Finn, C.A., Arko, R.A., Morse, D.L. Joughin, I. 2001. Subglacial sediment: a regional geological template for ice flow in West Antarctica. Geophysical Research Letters, 28, 34933496.
Thoma, M., Jenkins, A., Holland, D. Jacobs, S. 2008. Modelling circumpolar deep water intrusions on the Amundsen Sea continental shelf, Antarctica. Geophysical Research Letters, 35, 1029/2008GL034939.
Thomas, R., Rignot, E., Casassa, G., Kanagaratnam, P., Acuna, C., Akins, T., Brecher, H., Frederick, E., Gogineni, P., Krabill, W., Manizade, S., Ramamoorthy, H., Rivera, A., Russell, R., Sonntag, J., Swift, R., Yungel, J. Zwally, J. 2004. Accelerated sea level rise from West Antarctica. Science, 306, 255258.
Tingey, J.R. 1991. Commentary on schematic geological map of Antarctica, scale 1:10 000 000. Bureau of Mineral Resources, Australia, Bulletin, No. 238, 30 pp.
Vaughan, D.G. 2008. West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse - the fall and rise of a paradigm. Climatic Change, 91, 6579.
Vaughan, D.G., Corr, H.F.J., Ferraccioli, F., Frearson, N., O'Hare, A., Mach, D., Holt, J.W., Blankenship, D.D., Morse, D.L. Young, D.A. 2006. New boundary conditions for the West Antarctic ice sheet: subglacial topography beneath Pine Island Glacier. Geophysical Research Letters, 33, 10.1029/2005GL025588.
Walker, D.P., Brandon, M.A., Jenkins, A., Allen, J.T., Dowdeswell, J.A. Evans, J. 2007. Oceanic heat transport onto the Amundsen Sea shelf through a submarine glacial trough. Geophysical Research Letters, 34, 10.1029/2006GL028154.
Weigelt, E., Gohl, K., Uenzelmann-Neben, G. Larter, R.D. 2009. Late Cenozoic ice sheet cyclicity in the western Amundsen Sea embayment - evidence from seismic records. Global and Planetary Change, 69, 162169.
Wellner, J.S., Lowe, A.L., Shipp, S.S. Anderson, J.B. 2001. Distribution of glacial geomorphic features on the Antarctic continental shelf and correlation with substrate: implications for ice behavior. Journal of Glaciology, 47, 397411.
Wilch, T.I., McIntosh, W.C. Dunbar, N.W. 1999. Late Quaternary volcanic activity in Marie Byrd Land: potential 40Ar/39Ar dated time horizons in West Antarctic ice and marine cores. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 111, 15631580.
Winberry, J.P. Anandakrishnan, S. 2004. Crustal structure of the West Antarctic rift system and Marie Byrd Land hotspot. Geology, 32, 977980.


Provenance changes between recent and glacial-time sediments in the Amundsen Sea embayment, West Antarctica: clay mineral assemblage evidence

  • Werner Ehrmann (a1), Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand (a2), James A. Smith (a2), Alastair G.C. Graham (a2), Gerhard Kuhn (a3) and Robert D. Larter (a2)...


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed