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Activation of high-elevation alluvial fans in the Transantarctic Mountains - a proxy for Plio-Pleistocene warmth along East Antarctic ice margins
Entry ID: NSF-ANT10-43554

Abstract: The PIs propose to address the question of whether ice surface melting zones developed at high elevations during warm climatic phases in the Transantarctic Mountains. Evidence from sediment cores drilled by the ANDRILL program indicates that open water in the Ross Sea could have been a source of warmth during Pliocene and Pleistocene. The question is whether marine warmth penetrated inland to the ice sheet margins. The glacial record may be ill suited to answer this question, as cold-based glaciers may respond too slowly to register brief warmth. Questions also surround possible orbital controls on regional climate and ice sheet margins. Northern Hemisphere insolation at obliquity and precession timescales is thought to control Antarctic climate through oceanic or atmospheric connections, but new thinking suggests that the duration of Southern Hemisphere summer may be more important. The PIs propose to use high elevation alluvial deposits in the Transantarctic Mountains as a proxy for inland warmth. These relatively young fans, channels, and debris flow levees stand out as visible evidence for the presence of melt water in an otherwise ancient, frozen landscape. Based on initial analyses of an alluvial fan in the Olympus Range, these deposits are sensitive recorders of rare melt events that occur at orbital timescales. For their study they will 1) map alluvial deposits using aerial photography, satellite imagery and GPS assisted field surveys to establish water sources and to quantify parameters effecting melt water production, 2) date stratigraphic sequences within these deposits using OSL, cosmogenic nuclide, and interbedded volcanic ash chronologies, 3) use paired nuclide analyses to estimate exposure and burial times, and rates of deposition and erosion, and 4) use micro and regional scale climate modeling to estimate paleoenvironmental conditions associated with melt events.
This study will produce a record of inland melting from sites adjacent to ice sheet margins to help determine controls on regional climate along margins of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet to aid ice sheet and sea level modeling studies. The proposal will support several graduate and undergraduates. A PhD student will be supported on existing funding. The PIs will work with multiple K-12 schools to conduct interviews and webcasts from Antarctica and they will make follow up visits to classrooms after the field season is complete.

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Description: NSF Award Abstract #1043554

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Description: Original data submitted.

Geographic Coverage
 N: -77.5 S: -77.5  E: 161.5  W: 161.5

Data Set Citation
Version: Not provided

Temporal Coverage
Start Date: 2011-07-01
Stop Date: 2015-06-30

Location Keywords

Science Keywords

NSF/PLR >Division of Polar Programs, National Science Foundation    [Information]

Data Set Progress

Data Center
United States Antarctic Program Data Center    [Information]
Data Center URL:

Data Center Personnel
Email: info at
Contact Address:
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
61 Route 9W
City: Palisades
Province or State: NY
Postal Code: 10964
Country: USA

Email: jwillenbring at
Contact Address:
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
City: La Jolla
Province or State: CA
Postal Code: 92093
Country: US

Extended Metadata Properties
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Creation and Review Dates
DIF Creation Date: 2016-11-09
Last DIF Revision Date: 2018-11-13