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Antarctic raised beaches: Insight on geochronology, relative sea level, and coastal processes


Beaches are preserved above sea level along ice-free portions of the Antarctic coastline due to post-glacial rebound associated with glacial isostatic adjustment since the Last Glacial Maximum. The ages and elevations of these beaches provide relative sea-level constraints for glacial isostatic adjustment models and ice-sheet histories. Due to harsh field conditions and difficulty dating Antarctic materials, a lack of geochronological constraints on raised beaches limits our understanding of relative sea level around Antarctica. The focus of the studies discussed here is on Antarctic raised beaches with goals to improve the methods of dating cobble surfaces from raised beaches using optically stimulated luminescence and use the dated beaches to reconstruct relative sea level and better understand Antarctic coastal processes throughout the Holocene. Through a series of cleaning methods applied to sample carriers used for optically stimulated luminescence measurements of sediment, the contamination of dose-dependent, variable signals from sample carriers previously assumed to have neutral signals is eliminated through a series of cleaning methods (Chapter 2). An analysis of optically stimulated luminescence characteristics of quartz from cobble surfaces with sample petrology and cathodoluminescence provides insight on the suitability of Antarctic materials for optically stimulated luminescence dating (Chapter 3). The limited amount of quartz (<10%) found in the majority of the samples often occurs as intergrowths in feldspars characterized by irregular, anhedral crystal form. A lack of discernible relationship between optically stimulated luminescence and cathodoluminescence properties and petrology suggest that cathodoluminescence behavior and petrology are not responsible for the poor luminescence characteristics observed from quartz extracted from cobble surfaces. A relative sea-level history of Marguerite Bay, Antarctic Peninsula derived from optically stimulated luminescence-dated beach cobble surfaces further constrains post-glacial rebound since the Last Glacial Maximum (Chapter 4). New ages suggest the Holocene marine limit for Marguerite Bay is 21.7 masl with an age of ~ 5.5-7.3 ka. Our favored hypothesis for the ages of the beaches from 21.7-40.8 masl at Calmette Bay is that the beaches formed prior to the Last Glacial Maximum. The temporal distribution of circum-Antarctic raised beaches throughout the Holocene is utilized to determine the relationship between wave-energy, sea ice, and coastal evolution (Chapter 5). The distribution of raised beaches throughout the Holocene around Antarctica show synchronous periods of beach formation in the Antarctic Peninsula and the Ross Sea centered at 2.0, 3.5, and 5.3 ky BP while East Antarctic (outside of the Ross Sea) beach formation is out-of-phase with the rest of the Antarctica at 3.2, 4.2, 5.8, and 6.5 ky BP. The distribution of beaches in the South Shetland Islands is dominated by enhanced beach formation between 0.2 and 0.7 ky BP most likely due to rapid post-glacial rebound associated with the Little Ice Age with minor peaks in beach formation from 1.3-2.2, 5.1-5.6, and 6.0-6.5 ky BP. Beach formation results from higher wave exposure during periods of reduced sea ice observed from comparison with Holocene sea-ice proxies. The anti-phasing of beach formation in the Antarctic Peninsula and Ross Sea compared to East Antarctica is markedly similar to the phasing of modern and Holocene climate forcing around Antarctica. The findings of these studies focused on Antarctic raised beaches have implications for understanding sea-level, glacial isostatic adjustment, ice-sheet histories, and coastal processes since the Last Glacial Maximum.  

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