Abstract

The formation of perched deltas and other lacustrine deposits in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica is widely considered to be evidence of valley-filling lakes dammed by the grounded Ross Sea ice sheet during the local Last Glacial Maximum, with lake drainage interpreted as a record of grounding line retreat. We used luminescence dating to determine the age of paleolake deltas and glacial tills in Garwood Valley, a coastal dry valley that opens to the Ross Sea. Luminescence ages are stratigraphically consistent with radiocarbon results from algal mats within the same delta deposits but suggest radiocarbon dates from lacustrine carbonates may overestimate deposit ages by thousands of years. Results suggest that late Holocene delta deposition into paleolake Howard in Garwood Valley persisted until ca. 3.5 ka. This is significantly younger than the date when grounded ice is thought to have retreated from the Ross Sea. Our evidence suggests that the local, stranded ice-cored till topography in Garwood Valley, rather than regional ice-sheet dynamics, may have controlled lake levels for some McMurdo Dry Valleys paleolakes. Age control from the supraglacial Ross Sea drift suggests grounding and up-valley advance of the Ross Sea ice sheet into Garwood valley during marine oxygen isotope stage (MIS) 4 (71–78 ka) and the local Last Glacial Maximum (9–10 ka). This work demonstrates the power of combining luminescence dating with existing radiocarbon data sets to improve understanding of the relationships among paleolake formation, glacial position, and stream discharge in response to climate change.

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