The lowest 501 m (~1139–638 m) of the AND-2A core from southern McMurdo Sound is the most detailed and complete record of early Miocene sediments in Antarctica and indicates substantial variability in Antarctic ice sheet activity during early Miocene time. There are two main pulses of diamictite accumulation recorded in the core, and three significant intervals with almost no coarse clasts. Each diamictite package comprises several sequences consistent with ice advance-retreat episodes.
The oldest phase of diamictite deposition, Composite Sequence 1 (CS1), has evidence for grounded ice at the drill site and has been dated around 20.2–20.1 Ma. It likely coincides with cooling associated with isotope event Mi1aa. This is overlain by a diamictite-free, sandstone-dominated interval, CS2 that includes three coarsening-upward deltaic cycles, is inferred to mark substantial warming, and has an inferred age range between 20.1 and 20.05 Ma. Above this is an interval with variable amounts of diamictite (CS3), with indicators of ice grounding, that is inferred to record ice advance relative to CS2, and is overlain by an ~100-m-thick mud-rich interval (CS4) with no sedimentological evidence for direct glacial influence at the drill site (ca. 19.4–18.7 Ma). A third overlying diamictite-rich interval (CS5) overlies an unconformity spanning 18.7–17.8 Ma (coinciding with isotope event Mi1b), and records a return to more ice-influenced conditions at the drill site in late early Miocene time. The overall picture for the early Miocene (spanning the period 20.2–17.35 Ma) is one of ice advance alternating with periods of ice retreat and hence significant global climate fluctuations after the permanent establishment of the Antarctic ice sheet at the Eocene/Oligocene boundary, and preceding the relative warmth of the middle Miocene climatic optimum (ca. 17.5–14.5 Ma).
Sedimentary cyclicity in CS1 and CS2 is consistent with ~21 k.y. precession but in CS3 the frequency is closer to 100 k.y. (consistent with eccentricity), with a possible change to 20 k.y. precession in CS4. CS5 cyclicity is consistent with obliquity forcing. Provenance data are consistent with local Transantarctic Mountains glacial activity under precessional control in CS1 and more southerly ice-cap build up under 100 k.y. eccentricity and obliquity control during CS3 and CS5, respectively.