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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.
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.
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