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Pollen Distribution in the Northeast Pacific Ocean

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Linda Heusser
Department of Biology, New York University, Box 608, Tuxedo, New York 10987 USA
William L. Balsam
Division of Natural Sciences, Southampton College of Long Island University, Southampton, New York 11968 USA


Distributional patterns of palynomorphs in core tops from the continental margin of the northeast Pacific Ocean (30°–60°N lat 118°–150°W long) reflect the effects of fluvial and marine sedimentation as well as the distribution of terrestrial vegetation. Maximum pollen concentration (grains/cm3 of marine sediment) occurs off the mouth of the Columbia River and off San Francisco Bay (the outlet of the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers) and appears to be coincident with areas of high terrigenous lutite deposition. The abundance of pollen and spores in shelf sediments is extremely variable with high concentrations typical only of the finest sediments. On the slope, rise and abyssal plain, pollen concentration shows a general decrease with distance from shore. This suggests that in the northeast Pacific pollen is transported into the marine environment primarily by rivers and that, in terms of sedimentation, pollen may be regarded as part of the organic component of fine-grained lutum.

Pinus, the principal pollen component of marine sediment on the northeast Pacific margin, is concentrated adjacent to the major drainage systems of areas in which pine grows. Tsuga heterophylla, Picea, and Alnus, important components of the temperate conifer forest, are concentrated off the area of their optimal development, western Washington. Quercus, Sequoia, and Compositae concentrations are greater off the southern California coast where they are prominent in the vegetation. The relative (percent) abundance of most of these pollen taxa in marine sediments reflects a positive relationship to their distribution on land. Picea and Alnus are relatively more important north of 45°N, Tsuga heterophylla between 45°–50°N, and Quercus, Sequoia, and Compositae south of 40°N. Pine percentages increase seaward, from less than 10% of the pollen sum in shelf sediments to over 50% in sediments on the abyssal plain. This seems to indicate selective transport of pine pollen. Factor analysis of pollen data from the 61 core tops results in four pollen assemblages. Three of these assemblages (Quercus-Compositae-Sequoia, Tsuga heterophylla-Pinus, and Alnus-Picea) reflect the distribution of vegetation on the adjacent continent, one (Pinus) reflects primarily the effects of marine sedimentation.

Research Article
University of Washington

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