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Late Quaternary Lakes in the McMurdo Sound Region of Antarctica

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Lake levels within the enclosed drainage basins of the Dry Valleys adjacent to McMurdo Sound have fluctuated widely during the Late Quaternary due to (a) local climate change and the consequent variation in the evaporation–precipitation regime, and (b) glacial fluctuations, resulting in changes in the catchment and meltwater drainage areas of the glaciers and, in some cases, in the volumes of the available lake basins. Three types of lakes can be distinguished on the basis of their water source: (1) lakes receiving the bulk of their water from melting of local alpine glaciers; (2) proglacial lakes associated with outlet glaciers from the East Antarctic Ice Sheet; (3) proglacial lakes associated with the marine oxygen-isotope stage 2 Ross Sea ice sheet and its precursors. The Dry Valleys contain an exceptionally long lacustrine record, extending back at least 300,000 years. Lacustrine sedimentation is cyclical, occurring over periods of about 100,000 years. During the last such cycle, relatively small lakes, both adjacent to East Antarctic outlet glaciers and fed by meltwater from alpine glaciers, existed during stage 5. However, these local lakes gave way to large proglacial lakes adjacent to the Ross Sea ice sheet in stage 2. The same relationship apparently occurred during the previous 100,000-year cycle. Dating of lacustrine sediments suggests that lakes proglacial to the Ross Sea ice sheet have existed during episodes of sea-level lowering during global glaciations. Lakes proglacial to outlet glaciers from the East Antarctic Ice Sheet have formed coincident with episodes of high eustatic sea level during interglacial periods.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Antarctic Research Unit, University of Waikato, New Zealand

Publication date: February 1, 2000

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