The highest resolution Holocene sediment core from the Antarctic Peninsula to date was collected during the first SHALDRIL cruise (NBP0502). Drilling yielded a 108.2-m-long core (87% recovery; site NBP0502–1B) from Maxwell Bay, South Shetland Islands. This high-resolution sediment record comes from a region that is currently experiencing dramatic climate change and associated glacial retreat. Such records can help to constrain the nature of past climate change and causal mechanisms, and to provide a context for evaluating current climate change and its impacts.
The base of the drill site sampled till and/or proximal glacimarine sediments resting directly on bedrock. Glacimarine suspension deposits composed of dark greenish gray silty mud with variable diatom abundance and scattered very fine sand laminations make up the majority of the sedimentary section. Detailed sedimentological and geochemical analyses, including magnetic susceptibility, total organic carbon (TOC) content, carbon and nitrogen isotopic composition, pebble content, and biogenic silica content, allow subdivision of the glacimarine section into nine units, and seismic facies analyses resulted in the identification of six distinct seismic units. We used 29 radiocarbon ages to construct an age model and calculate sedimentation rates that vary by two orders of magnitude, from 0.7 mm/a to ~30 mm/a.
Radiocarbon ages from glacimarine sediments just above the till date back to between 14.1 and 14.8 ka. Thus, ice was grounded in the fjord during the Last Glacial Maximum and eroded older sediments from the fjord. Following initial retreat of grounded ice from Maxwell Bay, the fjord was covered by a permanent floating ice canopy, probably an ice tongue. The highest sedimentation rate corresponds to an interval that contains abundant sand laminations and gravelly mud inter vals and likely represents a melt-out phase or period of rapid glacial retreat from 10.1 ka to 8.2 ka. There is no evidence for an early Holocene climatic reversal, as recorded farther south at the Palmer Deep drill site. Minimum sea-ice cover and warm water conditions occurred between 8.2 and 5.9 ka. From 5.9 to 2.6 ka, there was a gradual cooling and more extensive sea-ice cover in the bay. After 2.6 ka, the climate varied slightly, causing only subtle variation in glacier grounding lines. There is no compelling evidence for a Little Ice Age readvance in Maxwell Bay. The current warming and associated glacial response in the northern Antarctic Peninsula appears to be unprecedented in its synchroneity and widespread impact.