Ross Sea Till Properties: Implications for Ice Sheet Bed Interaction
Abstract:Since the discovery of a pervasive shearing till layer underlying Ice Stream B, the scientific community has categorized subglacial diamictons as either deformation till or lodgement till primarily based on shear strength. Deformation till is associated with streaming ice, formed through subglacial deformation of unconsolidated sediments. Lodgement till is believed to be deposited by the plastering of sediment entrained at the base of slow-flowing ice onto a rigid bed. Unfortunately, there has been a paucity of quantitative data on the spatial distribution of shear strength across the continental shelf. Cores collected from the Ross Sea on cruises NBP1502 and NBP9902 provide a rich dataset that can be used to interpret till shear strength variability.
Till strengths are analyzed within the context of: (1) geologic substrate; (2) water content and other geotechnical properties; (3) ice sheet retreat history; and (4) geomorphic framework. Tills display a continuum of shear strengths rather than a bimodal distribution, suggesting that shear strength cannot be used to distinguish between lodgement and deformation till. Where the substrate below the LGM unconformity is comprised of older lithified deposits, till shear strengths are both highly variable within the till unit, as well as highly variable between cores. Conversely, where ice streams flowed across unconsolidated Plio-Pleistocene deposits, shear strengths are low and less variable within the unit and between cores. This suggests greater homogenization of cannibalized tills, and possibly a deeper pervasive shear layer. Coarser-grained tills are observed on banks and bank slopes, with finer tills in troughs. Highly variable and more poorly sorted tills are found in close proximity to sediment-based subglacial meltwater channels, attesting to a change in ice-bed interaction as subglacial water increases. Pellets (rounded sedimentary clasts of till matrix) are observed in Ross Sea cores, suggesting a history of deformation responsible for pellet formation. Till strength was measured in a variety of environments, including mega-scale lineations and grounding zone wedges; ongoing work focuses on evaluating till shear strengths within a geomorphic context. These analyses are used to re-evaluate till genesis, transport, and characterization.