Abstract

There are two competing scenarios on the behavior of the East Antarctic ice sheet during the late Tertiary. In one scenario, the ice sheet was very dynamic and underwent major drawdown and renewal as late as the Pliocene. In the other, the ice sheet was relatively stable during the late Neogene. The presence of marine diatoms in Sirius Group sedimentary rocks in East Antarctica is at the center of the disagreement. One side regards the diatoms as the major piece of evidence to support the drawdown and renewal hypothesis and infers that they were introduced into the Sirius during renewed glaciation of East Antarctica; others suggest that these diatoms were likely introduced into the Sirius by atmospheric (largely eolian) processes. We propose a simple test of the eolian hypothesis. If diatoms were introduced into the Sirius by eolian processes, then they should also be present in older (Paleozoic and Mesozoic) sedimentary and igneous rocks. Samples from two units of the Beacon Supergroup (Devonian to Jurassic) from Beacon Valley, East Antarctica, were analyzed: the Beacon Heights Orthoquartzite (Devonian) and the Feather Conglomerate (Permian-Triassic). Also examined was sediment found in cracks of Paleozoic and Mesozoic (Devonian to Cretaceous) igneous rocks from Marie Byrd Land, West Antarctica. Largely Pliocene-Pleistocene planktonic marine diatoms were found in all sample sets. Because neither Beacon Supergroup sedimentary rocks nor igneous rocks from Marie Byrd Land are Pliocene-Pleistocene in age, such findings strongly suggest that diatoms were introduced into them by eolian processes. This same scenario can be applied to Sirius Group sedimentary rocks.

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