Benthic Epiphytic Diatoms in Deep-sea Southern Ocean Sediments as a New Tool for Reconstructing Antarctic Paleoclimatic and Paleoceanographic History: Implications of Floating ‘Macroalgal Biotic Oases’

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 5:15 PM
David M Harwood1, Nishaila Porter2 and Suzanne OConnell2, (1)University of Nebraska Lincoln, Lincoln, NE, United States, (2)Wesleyan University, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Middletown, CT, United States
A new paleobiological proxy for Antarctic paleoclimate history provides insight into past extent of open marine shelves on Wilkes Land margin, and calls for reassessment of IRD interpretations in the deep-sea. Marine, epiphytic benthic diatoms that grow attached to macroalgae (seaweed) are recovered in Miocene sediment from DSDP Site 269. They suggest periodic presence of floating rafts or ‘biotic oases’ in the Southern Ocean comprising buoyant macroalgae, attached benthic diatoms, and biota associated with this displaced coastal community. Macroalgae attach to the substrate with a holdfast, a multi-fingered structure that serves as an anchor. Uprooted holdfasts attached to buoyant macroalgae can raft sedimentary particles, some large (>50 kg), into the deep-sea. In addition, a rich biota of associated invertebrates live in cavities within the holdfast, the dispersal of which may explain the biogeographic distribution of organisms on Subantarctic islands. The stratigraphic occurrence of large, benthic epiphytic diatoms of genera Arachnoidiscus, Isthmia, Rhabdonema, Gephyra, Trigonium, and smaller Achnanthes, Cocconeis, Grammatophora, and Rhaphoneis in sediment cores from DSDP Site 269 reflect a rich, productive epiphytic diatom flora that maintained its position in the photic zone attached to their buoyant seaweed hosts. Amphipods and other herbivores grazed the benthic diatoms and produced diatom-rich fecal pellets that were delivered to the sea-floor. The discontinuous stratigraphic occurrence of the epiphytic diatoms, amongst the background of planktonic diatoms in Core 9 of DSDP Site 269, suggests environmental changes induced by either warm or cold events may have controlled the production and/or release of the macroalgae into the deep-sea. Warm events led to increased shelf areas, and cold events led to formation of ice on the macroalgae to increase their buoyancy and lift-off. Complicating the distinction between warm and cold events is the potential for the transport of sediment within the holdfast, biologically-rafted-debris (BRD). Identifying the abundance and provenance of the terrigeneous sediment may help to distinguish the climate and source-area signal of this complex relationship and refine the use of epiphytic diatoms as a paleoclimate and stratigraphic tool.