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Quaternary sedimentation of the Alaskan Beaufort shelf: Influence of regional tectonics, fluctuating sea levels, and glacial sediment sources

Tectonophysics

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Abstract

The offshore stratigraphy of the Quaternary Gubik Formation of Arctic Alaska has been studied on high-resolution seismic profiles with a maximum sub-seafloor penetration of about 100 m. In general, marine transgressive subunits of the Gubik Formation are wedge-shaped on the shelf, thickening slightly seaward to the shelf break, beyond which they are offset by landslides and slumps. Beneath the eastern third of the Alaskan Beaufort shelf, active folding has created two persistent structural depressions, the Eastern and Western Wedge Terranes, in which the wedge morphology is especially well developed. The youngest transgressive marine wedge, which was deposited in such a way as to fill these depressions, leaving a generally flat present-day shelf surface, is inferred to be late Wisconsin or younger in age because it overlies a prominent disconformity interpreted to have been formed during the late Wisconsin glacial sea-level minimum. The thickness of this youngest wedge, Unit A, locally exceeds 40 m on the outer shelf, yet apparently relict gravel deposits collected from its seabed surface indicate that the depositional rate is presently quite low on the middle and outer shelf. Lithologies of the gravels are exotic to Alaska, but similar to suites exposed in the Canadian Arctic Islands. These observations suggest a depositional scenario in which the retreating Laurentide Ice Sheet shed sediment-laden icebergs from the Canadian Arctic Islands into the Arctic Ocean following the late Wisconsin glacial maximum. These bergs were then rafted westward by the Beaufort Gyre and grounded on the Alaskan shelf by northeasterly prevailing winds. Especially large numbers of bergs accumulated in the wedge terrane embayments-created as sea level rose-and melted there, filling the embayments with their sedimentary cargo. As glacial retreat slowed, depositional rates on the shelf dwindled. This mode of deposition in the Alaskan Beaufort wedge terranes may be typical of early post-glacial transgressive phases throughout Quaternary time. It has resulted in the preservation of disconformities that apparently formed during glacioeustatic lowstands, and whose seaward termination depths, appropriately corrected, may yield estimates of lowstand magnitudes. Knowledge of global sea-level fluctuations back through the Sangamon Interglacial (oxygen isotope stage 5e) and possible correlations with dated onshore deposits have facilitated a tentative correlation of major disconformities in the Beaufort Sea record with major 18O enrichment maxima in the oxygen isotope curve back through stage 8. In this tentative scheme, close similarities between the two data sets occur both in magnitudes and in numbers of fluctuations intervening between major correlation points. Further testing of the Quaternary depositional model suggested here and of the resulting sea level curve awaits the collection and dating of core samples from the Beaufort wedge terranes. ?? 1985.

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Article
Publication Subtype:
Journal Article
Title:
Quaternary sedimentation of the Alaskan Beaufort shelf: Influence of regional tectonics, fluctuating sea levels, and glacial sediment sources
Series title:
Tectonophysics
Volume
114
Issue:
1-4
Year Published:
1985
Language:
English
Larger Work Type:
Article
Larger Work Subtype:
Journal Article
Larger Work Title:
Tectonophysics
First page:
133
Last page:
161