Abstract

The diamictites of the Neoproterozoic Kapp Lyell Sequence in northern Wedel Jarlsberg Land, southwest Spitsbergen, have long been recognized as ancient glacial deposits, but their place within the global stratigraphic framework of ‘snowball Earth’ has remained unclear, owing to the complexity of superimposed Caledonian deformation and to the relatively inaccessible terrain in which they occur. Recently deglaciated exposures of the rocks now provide a more complete picture of the changing environment in which the diamictites were deposited, and new understanding of regional correlations help constrain their place in the global chronostratigraphy of the Cryogenian Period. The 2500 m thick Kapp Lyell Sequence consists of three distinct types of glaciomarine diamictite. The succession begins with about 1000 m of finely laminated diamictite containing abundant lonestones. The millimetre- to centimetre-scale laminae, apparent suspension deposits, consist of sand- to silt-sized particles of quartz and dolomite alternating with thin films of graphitic phyllite. The laminated unit gives way abruptly to 500–1000 m of unsorted, unlayered diamictite that alternates and interfingers with graded beds of conglomerate to sandstone. These apparent turbidite deposits become increasingly prevalent toward the top of the exposed section. Regional lithostratigraphic relationships suggest that the Kapp Lyell sequence corresponds to the second major stage of Neoproterozoic glaciation at c. 635 Ma. The graphitic material in the laminated unit yields δ13C values in the range of −20 to −22 ‰, pointing to a biogenic origin and an active marine biosphere at the time of deposition. The preservation of organic carbon and unusually large ratios of highly reactive Fe to total Fe suggest that low oxygen conditions prevailed in the deep basin that received these sediments. The transition from laminated, to unsorted, to graded diamictites may represent change from (1) a stable ice margin that released rare icebergs into a deep, quiet basin to (2) a collapsing ice sheet that unleashed flotillas of icebergs and large volumes of sediment to (3) submarine landslides that triggered turbidity flows from the rapidly deposited, gravitationally unstable sediments. The Kapp Lyell diamictite sequence appears to chronicle the demise of a large ice mass in this part of the Neoproterozoic world.

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