In the 1994, 1995, and 1998 austral field seasons, geophysical research efforts in the Ross Sea focused on acquiring a high-resolution database designed to permit (1) reconstruction of the maximum extent and configuration of the ice sheet during the Last Glacial Maximum (i.e., oxygen isotope stage 2); (2) reconstruction of conditions at the base of the ice sheet; and (3) assessment of the relative retreat history of the ice sheet following the Last Glacial Maximum.
Five seismic facies are distinguished on the basis of external geometry, relationships among features, bounding surface amplitude, intensity of internal acoustic signature, and geometry of internal reflectors. Seismic facies 1 is a transparent draping unit correlated to diatomaceous mud, interpreted as being deposited under open-marine conditions. Seismic facies 2 and 3 are comprised of units displaying subdued massive internal signatures with smooth lower bounding surfaces and hummocky upper surfaces characterized by glacial lineations. These units are interpreted to be grounding-zone proximal deposits overridden by the expanded ice sheet. Seismic facies 2 may be a deforming-till unit. Seismic facies 4a is characterized by an internally massive to chaotic signature, an erosional, often flat, lower surface, and a hummocky upper surface displaying glacial lineations. This unit is interpreted to be till and is divided into deposits associated with the most recent glacial expansion (4a) and with an earlier (pre–Last Glacial Maximum) expansion (4b). Seismic facies 5 is an acoustically laminated, ponded, and draping deposit interpreted to contain proglacial and sub–ice-shelf materials deposited continuously since the last interglacial period. The associations of these units provide context for the interpretation of the ice-edge maximum position, conditions at the base of the ice sheet, and the relative retreat history of the region.
There is compelling evidence for a much-expanded ice sheet in the Ross Sea during the Last Glacial Maximum. In the western Ross Sea, the maximum grounding position is marked by an isolated grounding-zone wedge, and placed in the vicinity of Coulman Island, approximately 150 km from the continental-shelf edge. In the central Ross Sea, the maximum grounding position is close to the continental-shelf break, based primarily on the presence of an extensive 60-m-thick sheet-like deposit with a fluted upper surface.
Streaming ice may have occupied bathymetric lows on the continental shelf, as suggested by (1) the configuration of bathymetry; (2) the presence of glacially eroded troughs; (3) the concentration of sediment (interpreted to be deforming till) within the middle to outer shelf reaches of the troughs; and (4) the fluted nature of the upper surface. Absolute rates of streaming ice flow relative to inter-ice-stream areas are not implied.
The western Ross Sea continental-shelf deposits record the retreat history of ice derived predominantly from the East Antarctic Ice Sheet and glaciers of the Transantarctic Mountains. Ice flow on the continental shelf is interpreted to have remained fixed in position, restricted by the walls of the troughs. On the inner shelf of the western Ross Sea, the ice flowed over and eroded lithified sedimentary strata. Slower-moving ice occupied flat-topped banks. A single grounding-zone wedge occurs on the western Ross Sea central shelf; no substantial deposits are observed on the inner continental shelf. This lack of grounding-zone features reflects a restricted sediment supply and a relatively steady, rapid retreat of the ice sheet. During retreat, ice flow acted independently in each major trough and on the bank tops. Ice retreated from Victoria Land Basin–Drygalski Trough before it retreated from JOIDES Basin. Ice remained on the bank tops, shedding material into the abandoned troughs.
Grounded ice in the central Ross Sea was derived predominantly from an expanded West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The ice sheet remained grounded on the continental-shelf edge after retreat of ice from the western Ross Sea. Expanded ice eroded the inner shelf and deposited sheets of till on the central and outer shelf. Ice-stream drainage shifted laterally, as recorded by rounded, laterally accreting ridges that separate bathymetric troughs. The central Ross Sea is the repository for larger volumes of sediment, derived from ice flow across basins of relatively thick, unlithified sedimentary deposits. Two till sheets mark grounding-zone positions in the central Ross Sea, reflecting the higher sediment supply and a stepped deglaciation. Ice remained grounded on the Pennell Bank to the west; a series of moraines marks the retreat of ice across the bank.
Mega-scale glacial lineations and other streamlined, subglacial geomorphic features occur across the continental shelf, primarily within the troughs. The lineations substantiate the maximum reconstruction and support the interpretation of a deforming substrate beneath the outer reaches of the expanded ice sheet. This deforming substrate may have contributed to the onset of deglaciation. Features associated with meltwater are rare or absent, suggesting that basal meltwater played a minor role in retreat of the ice sheet.