This study describes 16 well-dated, terrestrial glacial sedimentary cycles deposited during astronomically paced climate cycles from the termination of the Miocene Climatic Optimum (MCO) through the middle Miocene Climate Transition (MMCT) (15.1–13.8 Ma) in the Friis Hills, Transantarctic Mountains, Antarctica. Three locations were continuously cored (79% recovery) to a maximum depth of 50.48 m through a succession of interbedded till sheets and fossil-bearing, fluvio-lacustrine sediments. A composite chronostratigraphic framework is presented for the cores based on the previous mapping, a seismic refraction survey that defines basin geometry, and a new, integrated age model based on paleomagnetic stratigraphy that is constrained by radioisotopic 40Ar/39Ar numeric ages on two newly identified silicic tephra.
The paleoecologic and sedimentologic characteristics of organic-rich lithologies are relatively consistent up-section, which implies that successively younger interglacial deposits during the MMCT represented broadly similar environmental and climatic conditions. During these interglacials, the Friis Hills hinterland was likely ice-free. Major disconformities in the section suggest a transition to colder climates, and after ca. 14.6 Ma, thicker, more extensive and erosive ice cover occurred across the Friis Hills during glacial episodes. Diamictites in the upper three cycles suggest that climate cooled and became drier after ca. 14.2 Ma. However, cyclical retreat of the ice and a return to warm climate conditions during interglacials continued through ca. 13.9 Ma. These direct records reflect a highly variable East Antarctic Ice Sheet margin but show that the ice margin became progressively more extensive during successive glacial intervals, which is consistent with a cooling trend toward more glacial values in the far-field benthic foraminifera δ18O proxy ice volume and temperature record.
Age constraints show that glacial-interglacial variability at the terrestrial margin of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet was primarily paced by astronomical precession (∼23 k.y.) through the onset of the MMCT (15–14.7 Ma). Precession-driven cycles are modulated by short-period (∼100 k.y.) eccentricity cycles. Intervals of maximum eccentricity (high seasonality) coincide with sedimentary cycles comprising thin diamictites and relatively thick interglacial sandstone and mudstone units. Intervals of minimum eccentricity (low seasonality) coincide with sedimentary cycles comprising thick diamictites and relatively thin interglacial sedimentary deposits. Major disconformities in the Friis Hills succession that span more than ∼100 k.y. reflect episodes of expansion of erosive ice across, and well beyond, the Transantarctic Mountains and coincide with nodes in eccentricity (∼400 k.y.). These relationships suggest that during relatively warm intervals in the middle Miocene, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet expanded and contracted over 100 k.y. cycles, while its margins continued to fluctuate at higher (∼23 k.y.) frequency. After 14.5 Ma, obliquity is the dominant frequency in δ18O records, marking a period during which large regions of the Antarctic Ice Sheet grounded in marine environments.