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Abstract

Turbidite, contourite and hemipelagic deposition are the main components of Wilkes Land continental rise sedimentation above the regional unconformity WL2. On the continental shelf, unconformity WL2 marks the start of shelf progradation, which is interpreted to correspond with the onset of glacial conditions in this segment of the east Antarctic margin. Unusually large (i.e. up to 900 m relief and 18 km between levee crests) channel-levee deposits, and high relief (up to 490 m) mounded contourite-style deposits develop above unconformity WLlb. Unconformity WLlb overlies unconformity WL2 and is interpreted to have formed under a fully continental glacial regime where ice streams reached the palaeo-continental shelf edge. Based on an analysis of multichannel seismic profiles and sediment cores, we differentiate three phases in the development of the sedimentary unit between WLlb and the present seafloor. From older to younger these are: Phase 1, dominated by turbidite deposition; Phase 2, dominated by turbidite and contourite deposition with significant mound building; and Phase 3, dominated by turbidite and contourite deposition without active mound building. We hypothesize that building of the mounds during Phase 2 corresponded with times of expansion of the Antarctic ice-sheet when vast amounts of sediment were eroded from the continent and continental shelf. The large amount of unsorted glacial sediment supplied to the outer shelf apparently travelled down the slope canyons and rise channels as turbidity current flows to feed the usually large continental rise channel-levee complexes. The suspended fines of the turbidity flows were then entrained in a palaeo-nepheloid layer and carried by the westward flowing palaeo-contour currents until their deposition in the mounds. During Phase 3, sediment supply to the continental rise, although important in volume and capable of turbidite and contour-current deposition, was insufficient to support further building of the mounds. We believe the decrease in sediment supply to the continental rise from Phase 2 to Phase 3 could be the result of a change on sediment depocentres, with most of the sediment supplied to the margin during Phase 3 being trapped on the continental shelf. We believe that ultimately these changes are related to the stage of glacial evolution of the continent.

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