Abstract

A 50+-km-long network of bedrock channels and scoured terrain occupies the ice-free portion of a major trough that crosses the Transantarctic Mountains in southern Victoria Land. The channels, collectively termed the Labyrinth, emerge from beneath the margin of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (Wright Upper Glacier) and are incised into a 300-m-thick sill of Ferrar Dolerite at the head of Wright Valley. Upper- and intermediate-elevation erosion surfaces of the Labyrinth exhibit striations and molding characteristic of glacial erosion. Channels and canyons on the lower surface are as much as 600 m wide and 250 m deep, have longitudinal profiles with many reverse gradients, and contain potholes >35 m deep at tributary junctions. These characteristics are most consistent with incision from fast-flowing subglacial meltwater; estimated discharge is on the order of 1.6–2.2 × 106 m3s−1. Our 40Ar/39Ar analyses of volcanic tephra from the Labyrinth show that the channels are relict, that major channel incision predates 12.4 Ma, and that the last major subglacial flood occurred sometime between 14.4 Ma and 12.4 Ma. The most plausible origin for the Labyrinth is erosion associated with episodic drainage of subglacial lakes in East Antarctica. One compelling possibility is that discharge of large volumes of subglacial meltwater to the Southern Ocean, and to the Ross Sea in particular, may have coincided with, and contributed to, oscillations in regional and/or global climate during the middle Miocene.

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