Abstract

Sea cliffs at Cape Ball on Graham Island, British Columbia, expose a thick sequence of Pleistocene sediments deposited during at least two glaciations. In sequence, from the base of the section, the units are (1) stony mud, (2) till, (3) silt, sand, and peat, (4) stony mud, (5) laminated sand and silt, (6) cross-bedded sand, and (7) till. Of special interest is unit 4, a massive to weakly stratified mud containing scattered stones that was deposited during the penultimate Pleistocene glaciation (marine isotope stage (MIS) 4). This unit contains wood and marine shell fragments that have yielded non-finite radiocarbon ages. Sand and silt with thin stringers of peat (unit 3) directly underlie this stony mud, and returned an optical age of 57.3 ± 5.7 ka. The stony mud is unconformably overlain by ponded sediments (unit 5) and advance outwash (unit 6) and till (unit 7) deposited during the Fraser Glaciation (MIS 2). The optically dated unit and a correlative peat and silty sand unit at a nearby exposure have pollen spectra with almost 100% non-arboreal pollen. Very low values of tree pollen, coupled with high frequencies of sedges, grasses, composites, Ericales, and the arctic−alpine indicator Koenigia islandica, indicate tundra vegetation and a cold climate. Abundant coprophilous Sporormiella (69%–91%) and Sordaria type (14%–47%) fungal spores in the peat samples indicate the former presence of grazing mammals at Cape Ball during MIS 4. During the MIS 3 interstade, subalpine forest existed at low elevations on Graham Island, providing environments suitable for the development of genetically distinct bird and mammal populations that survived in lowland refugia during the Fraser Glaciation.

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