Additional Participants

Graduate Student

Jesse Johnson
Allen Gontz

Undergraduate Student

Melissa Harper

Technician, Programmer

Douglas Introne

Other Participant

Daniel Nabor

Other Collaborators or Contacts

Dr. Stan Jacobs, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Dr. Eugene Domack, Hamilton College

Project Period

October 1, 1999-July 31, 2001

Level of Access

Open-Access Report

Grant Number


Submission Date



This award, provided by the Antarctic Geology and Geophysics Program of the Office of Polar Programs, supports a marine geological investigation of the Amundsen Sea region toward a better understanding of the deglaciation history of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). The WAIS may be inherently unstable because it is the last marine-based ice sheet in the world. Unlike other embayments in West Antarctica, major ice streams draining into the Amundsen Sea from the interior of the WAIS lack buttressing ice shelves. Mass balance data for the distal portions of these ice streams (Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers) appear to be in balance or may be becoming negative. Because both ice streams have beds that slope downward toward the center of the ice sheet, grounding-line recession resulting from either continued thinning or sea-level rise could trigger irreversible grounding-line retreat, leading to ice-sheet disintegration and consequent global sea-level rise. The limited marine geological and geophysical data available from the Amundsen Sea suggest that grounded ice or an ice shelf occupied the inner Amundsen Sea embayment until perhaps as recently as 1000 to 2000 years ago, and this ice may have retreated rapidly in historic time.

This project, a study of the marine geology and geophysics of the Amundsen Sea continental shelf from 100 degrees W to 130 degrees W, is designed to address the Amundsen Sea part of WAIS Science Plan Priority Goal H2: "What is the deglaciation history in the eastern Ross, the Bellingshausen and Amundsen Seas?" This project will examine bathymetric data of the Amundsen Sea continental shelf to determine the positions of former ice-steam channels, and to aid in choosing sites for sediment coring. Single-channel seismic reflection studies will be conducted in order to determine sediment-thickness patterns, to aid in choice of coring sites, and to locate and identify morphologic features indicative of former grounded ice (e.g., moraines, scours, flutes, striations, till wedges and deltas, etc.). Coring will be concentrated along former ice flow-lines. Core samples will be analyzed in the laboratory for sedimentology, to determine whether of not basal tills are present (indicating former grounded ice and its former extent), and for calcareous and siliceous microfossils. The chronology of grounding-line and ice-shelf retreat from a presumed Last Glacial Maximum position near the shelf break will be established using accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) carbon-14 dates of acid-insoluble particulate organic carbon.

This project will share ship time in the Amundsen Sea with a physical oceanographic project. Marine geologic data and samples collected will be integrated with findings of other investigators toward developing a comprehensive interpretation of the history of the WAIS.

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