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The sediment infill of subglacial meltwater channels on the West Antarctic continental shelf

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

James A. Smith*
British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge, CB3 0ET, UK
Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand
British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge, CB3 0ET, UK
Robert D. Larter
British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge, CB3 0ET, UK
Alastair G.C. Graham
British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge, CB3 0ET, UK
Gerhard Kuhn
Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Am Alten Hafen, D-27568 Bremerhaven, Germany
Corresponding author. Fax: +44 1223221646. Email Address:


Subglacial meltwater plays a significant yet poorly understood role in the dynamics of the Antarctic ice sheets. Here we present new swath bathymetry from the western Amundsen Sea Embayment, West Antarctica, showing meltwater channels eroded into acoustic basement. Their morphological characteristics and size are consistent with incision by subglacial meltwater. To understand how and when these channels formed we have investigated the infill of three channels. Diamictons deposited beneath or proximal to an expanded grounded West Antarctic Ice Sheet are present in two of the channels and these are overlain by glaciomarine sediments deposited after deglaciation. The sediment core from the third channel recovered a turbidite sequence also deposited after the last deglaciation. The presence of deformation till at one core site and the absence of typical meltwater deposits (e.g., sorted sands and gravels) in all three cores suggest that channel incision pre-dates overriding by fast flowing grounded ice during the last glacial period. Given the overall scale of the channels and their incision into bedrock, it is likely that the channels formed over multiple glaciations, possibly since the Miocene, and have been reoccupied on several occasions. This also implies that the channels have survived numerous advances and retreats of grounded ice.

University of Washington

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The sediment infill of subglacial meltwater channels on the West Antarctic continental shelf
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