Fifty-seven samples taken from ten piston cores collected along a transect off the continental margin of the Northern Basin, Ross Sea, Antarctica were analyzed for palynomorphs. Moderately diverse assemblages of marine microplankton and terrestrial palynomorphs were recovered. The palynomorph assemblages have been subdivided into two main groups: the in-situ flora (including acritarchs, dinoflagellate cysts, leiospheres and prasinophyte algae mainly composed of cymatiosphaerids), and the reworked flora (including dinoflagellate cysts, pollen and spores). The leiospheres are the most abundant palynomorphs. This prominence in the relative abundance of leiospheres has been reported as typical of assemblages found today at the limit between seasonal and pack ice in the Arctic. In-situ dinoflagellate cysts are sparse. They are mainly represented by Lejeunecysta, which, based on species similarities to those from Cape Roberts, are believed to be of Oligocene to Pliocene age. All other dinoflagellate cysts recovered are the result of reworking from Eocene to Oligocene sediments. Reworked spores and pollen comprise the second most abundant group. They are of moderate diversity and include an Eocene or older assemblage of Nothofagidites, Podocarpaceae and Proteaceae. Other taxa are representative of warmer rainforest vegetation, with Oligocene and Neogene taxa that include representatives of woodland to herbaceous/low shrubby tundra vegetation growing in colder subpolar climates. These assemblages indicate either different periods of deposition or reworking from diverse sources.
Through seismic correlation and diatom analysis, the sediments are believed to be Late Pliocene in age. On this basis, it is postulated that the major glacial advance, RSU 2 of Brancolini et al. (1995) or Unconformity 10 (U10) of Bart et al. (2000), occurred before 2.3 Ma, which is the oldest age of in-situ species recovered in units above U10. As both terrestrial and marine reworked taxa include assemblages of Eocene to Oligocene age, it is assumed that those reworked components were yielded from a single source; most probably Eocene to Oligocene shallow marine strata eroded and transported from the area of Ross Island to the shelf margin through ice streams located in the Drygalsky and Joides basins.