Short Name:

Diatom and Oxygen Isotope Evidence of Pliocene Antarctic Ice Sheet Dynamics and Ross Sea Paleoceanography

Abstract During the Early Pliocene, 4.8 to 3.4 million years ago, warmer-than-present global temperatures resulted in a retreat of the Ross Ice Shelf and West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Understanding changes in ocean dynamics during times of reduced ice volume and increased temperatures in the geologic past will improve the predictive models for these conditions. The primary goal of the proposed research is to develop a new oxygen isotope record of Pliocene oceanographic conditions near the Antarctic continent. Oxygen isotope values from the carbonate tests of benthic foraminifera have become the global standard for paleo-oceanographic studies, but foraminifera are sparse in high-latitude sediment cores. This research will instead make use of oxygen isotope measurements from diatom silica preserved in a marine sediment core from the Ross Sea. The project is the first attempt at using this method and will advance understanding of global ocean dynamics and ice sheet-ocean interactions during the Pliocene. The project will foster the professional development of two early-career scientists and serve as training for graduate and undergraduate student researchers. The PIs will use this project to introduce High School students to polar/oceanographic research, as well as stable isotope geochemistry. Collaboration with teachers via NSTA and Polar Educators International will ensure the implementation of excellent STEM learning activities and curricula for younger students. Technical Description This project will produce a high-resolution oxygen isotope record from well-dated diatom rich sediments that have been cross-correlated with global benthic foraminifera oxygen isotope records. Diatom silica frustules deposited during the Early Pliocene and recovered by the ANDRILL Project (AND-1B) provide ideal material for this objective. Diatomite unites in the AND-1B core are nearly pure, with little evidence of opal formation. A diatom oxygen isotope record from this core offers the potential to constrain lingering uncertainties about Ross Sea and Southern Ocean paleoceanography and Antarctic Ice Sheet history during a time of high atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. Specifically, oxygen isotope variations will be used to constrain changes in the water temperature and/or freshwater flux in the Pliocene Ross Sea. Diatom species data from the AND-1B core have been used to infer variations in the extent and duration of seasonal sea ice coverage, sea surface temperatures, and mid-water advection onto the continental shelf. However, the diatom oxygen isotope record will provide the first direct measure of water/oxygen isotope values at the Antarctic continental margin during the Pliocene.

Map of Earth