Abstract

Ice observations and sediment collected in a summer transit through the Northwest Passage provide insights on suspension freezing, the most important sediment entrainment mechanism for the Arctic Ocean. No evidence was seen for entrainment by bottom adfreezing, bluff slumping, river flooding, dragging ice keels, or significant eolian transport from land to sea. Lack of eolian sediment loading in the Northwest Passage, together with that already reported for northern Alaska, eliminates wind as an important source for fine sediment in the pack of the Beaufort Gyre and related parts of the Transpolar Drift. Muddy sediment with pebbles and cobbles, algae with holdfasts, ostracodes with appendages, and well-preserved mollusks and sea urchins were collected from two sites in a 50 km long stretch of turbid ice. These materials indicate that suspension freezing reaching to a water depth of 25–30 m during the previous fall was responsible for entrainment. This mechanism requires rapid ice formation in open, shallow water during a freezing storm, when the ocean becomes supercooled, and frazil and anchor ice attach to and ultimately lift sediment and living organisms to the sea surface. The mechanism, already known to be important in the Beaufort Sea, probably also affects wide, shallow Siberian shelves and leads to cross-shelf transport of shallow-water organisms and dropstones with "glacial striations" toward deep basins. This makes distinguishing glacial–interglacial cycles more difficult.

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