We have examined the nature and origin of smectites in glaciomarine sediments of the AND-2A drill core (McMurdo Sound, Antarctica) by means of X-ray diffraction (XRD) analyses on the clay fraction, field emission scanning electron microscopy (FESEM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM)
observations and SEM-EDS microanalyses on smectite particles. Relying on the smectite variation throughout the drill core it was possible to split the sequence into three units. Smectites throughout the core are either detrital or authigenic. Detrital smectites are close to montmorillonite-beidellite
in composition while newly-formed smectites frequently have higher Fe-Mg contents and intermediate compositions between the saponite and nontronite field, with lower amounts in the montmorillonite-beidellite field. In the upper sedimentary sections (Unit I, and Unit II, 36–440 mbsf,
0.7–16.5 Ma) smectites are interpreted to be predominantly detrital, whereas in the lower portion of the core (Unit III, 440–1123.20 mbsf, 16.5–20.2 Ma) authigenic smectites are the most common feature. The predominance of mica, the abundance of chlorite, and the nature of
smectites in the upper units indicate physical weathering under cold and dry climate, and a dominant provenance for the clay minerals from the Transantarctic Mountains. Smectites in the lower unit are considered mostly authigenic and they are most likely to be the result of early diagenetic
processes, being formed from the alteration of volcanic material (glass, pyroxenes and feldspars) and/or through precipitation from fluids of a possible hydrothermal origin. Our survey attests to the importance of discriminating between a detrital and authigenic nature of smectites as the
occurrence of authigenic clay minerals in ancient sedimentary successions might lead to incorrect palaeoclimatic interpretations, since they can be affected by diagenetic processes, thus obliterating the climatic signal.