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Late Quaternary carbonate deposition at the bottom of the world

Frank, Tracy D., James, Noel P., Bone, Yvonne, Malcolm, Isabelle, Bobak, Lindsey E.
Sedimentary geology 2014 v.305 pp. 1-16
Bryozoa, Cirripedia, Holocene epoch, benthic organisms, carbonates, climate, continental shelf, factories, fossils, global change, gravel, ice, models, oceanography, quaternary deposits, radiocarbon dating, sand, sea level, Antarctica
Carbonate sediments on polar shelves hold great potential for improving understanding of climate and oceanography in regions of the globe that are particularly sensitive to global change. Such deposits have, however, not received much attention from sedimentologists and thus remain poorly understood. This study investigates the distribution, composition, diagenesis, and stratigraphic context of Late Quaternary calcareous sediments recovered in 15 piston cores from the Ross Sea shelf, Antarctica. Results are used to develop a depositional model for carbonate deposition on glaciated, polar shelves. The utility of the deposits as analogs for the ancient record is explored. In the Ross Sea, carbonate-rich lithofacies, consisting of poorly sorted skeletal sand and gravel, are concentrated in the west and along the outer reaches of the continental shelf and upper slope. Analysis of fossil assemblages shows that deposits were produced by numerous low-diversity benthic communities dominated locally by stylasterine hydrocorals, barnacles, or bryozoans. Radiocarbon dating indicates that carbonate sedimentation was episodic, corresponding to times of reduced siliciclastic deposition. Most accumulation occurred during a time of glacial expansion in the lead-up to the Last Glacial Maximum. A more recent interval of carbonate accumulation postdates the early Holocene sea level rise and the establishment of the modern grounding line for the Ross Ice Shelf. When carbonate factories were inactive, fossil debris was subjected to infestation by bioeroders, dissolution, fragmentation, and physical reworking. This study reveals the episodic nature of carbonate deposition in polar settings and a reciprocal relationship with processes that deliver and redistribute siliciclastic debris. Carbonate production is most active during colder periods of the glacial–interglacial cycle, a potential new sedimentological paradigm for polar carbonate systems. Low accumulation rates and long residence times on the seafloor leave sediments vulnerable to significant post-depositional modification, processes that profoundly affect the appearance of deposits as they enter the rock record. Comparison with other examples of polar carbonates highlights the utility of these Late Quaternary deposits as a well-constrained analog that can aid in the recognition and interpretation of similar deposits from the ancient record.