The Geologic Basis for a Reconstruction of a Grounded Ice Sheet in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, at the Last Glacial Maximum

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A grounded ice sheet fed from the Ross Embayment filled McMurdo Sound at the last glacial maximum (LGM). This sheet deposited the little-weathered Ross Sea drift sheet, with far-traveled Transantarctic Mountains (TAM) erratics, on lower slopes of volcanic islands and peninsulas in the Sound, as well as on coastal forelands along the TAM front. The mapped upper limit of this drift, commonly marked by a distinctive moraine ridge, shows that the ice-sheet surface sloped landward across McMurdo Sound from 710 m elevation at Cape Crozier to 250 m in the eastern foothills of the Royal Society Range. Ice from the Ross Embayment flowed westward into the sound from both north and south of Ross Island. The northern flowlines were dominant, deflecting the southern flowlines toward the foothills of the southern Royal Society Range. Ice of the northern flowlines distributed distinctive kenyte erratics, derived from western Ross Island, in Ross Sea drift along the TAM front between Taylor and Miers Valleys. Lobes from grounded ice in McMurdo Sound blocked the mouths of TAM ice-free valleys, damming extensive proglacial lakes. A floating ice cover on each lake formed a conveyor that transported glacial debris from the grounded ice lobes deep into the valleys to deposit a unique glaciolacustrine facies of Ross Sea drift. The ice sheet in McMurdo Sound became grounded after 26,860 14C yr bp. It remained near its LGM position between 23,800 14C yr bp and 12,700 14C yr bp. Recession was then slow until sometime after 10,794 14C yr bp. Grounded ice lingered in New Harbor in the mouth of Taylor Valley until 8340 14C yr bp. The southward-retreating ice-sheet grounding line had penetrated deep into McMurdo Sound by 6500 14C yr bp. The existence of a thick ice sheet in McMurdo Sound is strong evidence for widespread grounding across the Ross Embayment at the LGM. Otherwise, the ice-sheet surface would not have sloped landward, nor could TAM erratics have been glacially transported westward into McMurdo Sound from farther offshore in the Ross Embayment.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Geological Sciences and Institute for Quaternary Studies, Bryan Global Sciences Center, University of Maine, USA 2: Department of Earth Sciences, Boston University, USA

Publication date: February 1, 2000

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