Sediment cores of late Quaternary age from the continental margin and deep sea (Bounty Trough) southeast of New Zealand reveal an alternating sequence of glacial and interglacial sediments. During glacial episodes of lowered sea level, glaciation in the Southern Alps was at its peak, and east coast rivers delivered enormous volumes of terrigenous sediments to the shelf edge. At these times, sediments of the deep adjacent basins were dominated by micaceous hemipelagic deposits with a low biogenic component consisting mostly of siliceous remains (radiolaria and sponge spicules). Planktonic foraminifera, although present, were much reduced in abundance because of increased dissolution, as in deeper water subantarctic cores farther to the south. Cool-water forms dominated.
During interglacial episodes, terrigenous sediment supply to the deep basins was reduced in response to higher sea levels and as glaciers retreated and deposited much of their loads in newly formed glacial lakes and on the plains. Terrigenous sediment dilution of the biogenic portion was thus much reduced. Calcium carbonate dissolution also was reduced. These processes, in combination, led to the deposition of foraminifera-rich hemipelagic sediments. Siliceous biogenic productivity decreased.
Thus, the late Quaternary marine sediment record in the area adjacent to southeast New Zealand is dominated by paleoclimatic influences that control terrigenous input, calcium carbonate dissolution, biogenic productivity, and the migration of planktonic assemblages.