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Marine Geology, 85 (1989) 101-120

101

Elsevier Science Publishers B.V., Amsterdam - - Printed in The Netherlands

SEDIMENTATION BENEATH ICE SHELVES


VIEW FROM ICE STREAM B

THE

R.B. ALLEY, D.D. BLANKENSHIP, S.T. ROONEY and C.R. BENTLEY


Geophysical and Polar Research Center, University of Wisconsin, 1215 West Dayton St., Madison,
WI 53706 (U.S.A.)
(Received August 3, 1987; revised and accepted May 23, 1988)

Abstract
Alley, R.B., Blankenship, D.D., Rooney, S.T. and Bentley, C.R., 1989. Sedimentation beneath ice Shelves -- the view
from ice stream B. In: R.D. Powell and A. Elverhei (Editors), Modern Glacimarine Environments: Glacial and
Marine Controls of Modern Lithofacies and Biofacies. Mar. Geol. 85:101 120.
Ice-shelf development is favored by rapid flow of cold ice from outlet glaciers or ice streams into protected
embayments with localized high spots. Basal melting of ice shelves is rapid near the ice front and m a y occur near the
grounding line. Ice from outlet glaciers m a y contain significant englacial debris that is deposited as a dropstone
diamicton in regions of basal melting. Englacial debris is sparse or absent in ice streams.
Evidence from ice stream B, draining into the Ross Ice Shelf of West Antarctica, suggests that the rapid ice velocity
arises from deformation of a several-meter-thick, water-saturated basal tilllayer that is eroding an unconformity on
sediments beneath and that has deposited a "till delta" tens of meters thick and tens of kilometers long at the
grounding line. Sea-level fall would cause "conveyor belt" recycling of this till delta and grounding-line advance
across the Ross Sea to the edge of the continental shelf,forming an ice sheet with a low, ice-stream profileresting on a
several meter-thick deforming tilllayer eroding an unconformity. The modern Ross Sea is characterized by a regional
unconformity overlain by a diamicton of probable latest Pliocene-Pleistocene age measuring several meters to tens of
meters thick. W e hypothesize that this diamicton is a deformed glacial tilland that the Ross Sea sediments record one
or more expansions of the till-lubricatedWest Antarctic ice sheet to the edge of the continental shelf.

Introduction
Ice shelves are important elements of glacial
systems and may play a significant role in
glaciomarine sedimentation. A considerable
amount of theoretical effort has been addressed to identifying the sedimentologic signature of ice shelves (e.g., Carey and Ahmad,
1961; Drewry and Cooper, 1981; Orheim and
Elverhoi, 1981; Powell, 1984; Drewry, 1986,
pp.201-216) and this effort probably has been
largely successful.
Unfortunately, very few hard data are available on the subject. The only comprehensive
observations taken beneath a large ice shelf
0025-3227/89/$03.50

are those from site J9 on the Ross Ice Shelf


(Figs.1 and 2; Clough and Hansen, 1979). There,
only sparse biological activity was observed
and no measurable thickness of modern sediments was present (Webb et al., 1979). As
discussed below, this may be typical of large
areas of modern and ancient ice shelves, but it
provides little help in recognizing sub-ice-shelf
sediments when they are deposited. Until,.an
ambitious project to drill through ice shelves is
mounted or a scientific submersible is taken
beneath an ice shelf, we can expect few new
observations of sub-ice-shelf sedimentation.
Any contribution we make to the literature
here, thus, must follow earlier woi-kers in

1989 Elsevier Science Publishers B.V.

102
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Fig.1. L o c a t i o n map of A n t a r c t i c a . Ice shelves are s h o w n stippled. On grid scale, 1 = 111 kin.

relying heavily on hypotheses, speculation,


and probabilities rather t h a n direct observations.
Bearing this in mind, we will first summarize
the glaciological constraints on ice-shelf formation and on types and rates of sediment
deposition beneath ice shelves. We will then
discuss the new observations regarding till

deformation beneath ice stream B at the head


of the Ross Ice Shelf (Fig.2) and their implications for sub-ice-shelf sedimentation, leading
to a new hypothesis for the sedimentary
history of the Ross Sea area. We will present
this hypothesis, compare its predictions to our
observations, and highlight those areas where
more data are required.

103
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SIPLE

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ed9
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!i! ::::::i~::

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Fig.2. Map showing Ross ice streams flowing into Ross Ice
Shelf; ice streams are s h o w n stippled. Modified from
Shabtaie and Bentley (1987). Grounding line of Rose (1979)
is shown on the ice streams by light dashed line and
grounding line of Shabtaie and Bentley (1987) is shown by
ticked solid line; ice plains occur between the two. Major
camps and features are indicated. See text for further
explanation.

Conditions for i c e - s h e l f f o r m a t i o n

An ice shelf is "a sheet of very thick ice, with a


level or gently undulating surface, which is
attached to the land along one side but most of
which is afloat and bounded on the seaward side
by a steep cliff"; the term was used by Sir
Douglas Mawson in 1912 (Bates and Jackson,
1980, p.309). With very few exceptions (e.g., Gow,
1967; Jeffries et al., 1988) the upglacier end of an
ice shelf consists of snow and ice that accumulated on a grounded ice sheet and then flowed
downglacier until it crossed the grounding line
(Hollin, 1962) and began to float. Along flow on
an ice shelf, ice formed from snow accumulation
becomes increasingly important (Thomas and
MacAyeal, 1982) and ice formed from basal
freeze-on of sea water may become important
(Morgan, 1972; Robin, 1979; Lange and MacAyeal, 1986; Engelhardt and Determann, 1987).

An unconfined ice shelf spreads rapidly


under its own weight at a rate that is easily
calculated (Weertman, 1957; Robin, 1958;
Thomas, 1973a,b). If an ice shelf were composed
of temperate ice, spreading would be very rapid
and water-filled surface crevasses would be
able to join with basal crevasses (Weertman,
1973) and cause rapid calving (Rasmussen and
Meier, 1982) and ice-shelf disintegration. Iceshelf spreading and calving are reduced by
lower temperatures, confinement in an embayment, and interaction with local "pinning
points" where the ice shelf becomes grounded
on high places in the sea floor. Rapid ice flux
across the grounding line also tends to counter
the rapid spreading of an ice shelf. Existence of
an ice shelf thus is favored by rapid input from
grounded ice (ice streams or outlet glaciers;
Robin, 1979; Bentley, 1984; Powell, 1984) into
an embayment with local high spots in the bed
and with cold temperatures (average midsummer temperature < 0C (Mercer, 1978) or mean
annual temperature < - 1 0 C (Robin, 1979)).
This does not mean that temperate ice shelves
cannot exist, but only that the requirements of
lateral constraint and protection from bottom
melting to sustain a temperate ice shelf are
sufficiently severe that none exists today;
however, the George IV Ice Shelf (Fig.l; Paren
and Cooper, in press) comes close, possibly in
response to recent climatic warming.
Most modern ice shelves exist in the Antarctic (Fig.l), where they occupy (including ice
rises, which are local regions of ice outflow
formed over pinning points) about 47% of the
coastline of permanent ice and 12% of the
surface area of permanent ice, but contain
< 3% of the total volume of permanent ice
(Drewry et al., 1982). The small volume of ice
shelves and ice rises occurs because ice shelves
average 475 m thick and ice rises 670 m thick,
whereas grounded ice excluding ice rises
averages 2450 m thick (Drewry et al., 1982).
The huge Ross and Filchner-Ronne ice shelves
(Fig.l), again including ice rises, together
account for 66% of the area and 74% of the
volume of all Antarctic ice shelves, but only
9% of the ice-shelf coastline (Drewry et al.,

104

1982; Doake, 1985). The Ross and Filchner


Ronne ice shelves also drain about 30% of the
mass output from the Antarctic Ice Sheet
(Giovinetto and Bentley, 1985).
Constraints on sub-ice-shelf
sedimentation

Sedimentation beneath ice shelves has been


discussed thoroughly by a number of authors
(e.g., Drewry and Cooper, 1981; Orheim and
Elverh~i, 1981; Powell, 1984). The basic conclusion of these papers is that debris melting out
of the base of an ice shelf will settle through
the water column to form a dropstone diamicton, which may be subject to slumping or
winnowing by currents following initial deposition. Deposition is limited to regions of basal
melting and is limited by the amount of debris
carried in the ice.

Basal melting
Identification of areas of basal melting
beneath an ice shelf, and thus of potential
sedimentation, is easy in theory but difficult in
practice. Possible methods are borehole and
core studies, including identification of frozenon saline ice and analysis of temperaturedepth profiles (Morgan, 1972; MacAyeal and
Thomas, 1979; Zotikov et al., 1979; Budd et al.,
1982; Engelhardt and Determann, 1987), radar
sounding (Neal, 1979; Thyssen, in press), resistivity measurements (Shabtaie and Bentley,
1979), mass-balance calculations (e.g., Thomas,
1976), water-mass studies in oceans adjacent to
ice shelves (Doake, 1985; Jacobs et al., 1985),
and thermodynamically coupled ice-shelfocean models (MacAyeal, 1985). All such
methods suffer serious shortcomings, however.
Borehole studies and resistivity are point
measurements and would require extensive
ground programs to characterize an ice shelf.
Mass-balance calculations require a long time
series of data to remove nonsteady effects.
Radar sounding and thermodynamic models
are not sufficiently well characterized to be
relied upon routinely, and water-mass studies

cannot determine where beneath an ice shelf


melting and freezing are occurring.
Despite these difficulties, some useful data
have been collected. Most ice shelves experience net basal melting; two measured values
are about 0.3 m a ' averaged over the Ross Ice
Shelf (Pillsbury and Jacobs, 1985) and 2 m a 1
for the George VI Ice Shelf (Doake, 1985).
Basal melting is most rapid toward the
seaward edges of ice shelves. Large and highlatitude ice shelves have significant regions of
basal freeze-on in interior zones (Morgan, 1972;
Zotikov et al., 1979; Engelhardt and Determann, 1987).
Many authors have made the (untested)
hypothesis that there is a zone of basal melting
near the grounding line even if basal freezing
occurs downglacier, owing to the pressure
dependence of the melting point of ice and the
sloping base of the ice shelf (the "ice pump";
Robin, 1979; Drewry and Cooper, 1981; Orheim
and Elverhoi, 1981; Powell, 1984). A parcel of
water in thermal equilibrium with ice at some
depth (and thus pressure) will melt ice if it is
forced to a lower level (higher pressure)
adiabatically, and will allow ice formation if
forced to a higher level (lower pressure); an icepump circulation thus can be established along
the sloping base of an ice shelf in which ice is
melted off at great depth and frozen back on at
lesser depth (Foldvik and Kvinge, 1974; Doake,
1976; Robin, 1979; Lewis, 1985).

Sediment supply
Small amounts of sediment may be generated
biogenically beneath an ice shelf (Clough and
Hansen, 1979), transported beneath an ice shelf
by currents, or deposited on the surface of an
ice shelf through eolian processes and eventually melted off the bottom. However, such
processes are likely to be insignificant on a
large ice shelf, where sedimentation will depend primarily on debris transport from regions of grounded ice. Such transport can be
subglacial, basal, high englacial, or supraglacial. (Supraglacial debris rests on top of a
glacier, subglacial debris is beneath a glacier,

105

and englacial debris, debris within a glacier,


comprises basal debris near the bed of the
glacier and high-englacial debris farther from
the glacier bed.) Debris transported supraglacially or englacially eventually must be deposited as a dropstone diamicton beneath the ice
shelf or from icebergs calved from the ice-shelf
front, whereas subglacially transported debris
must be deposited at or near the grounding
line.
As noted above, most ice flowing into ice
shelves does so from outlet glaciers (fastmoving ice flowing between rock walls) or from
ice streams (fast-moving ice flowing between
regions of slow-moving ice; Bentley, 1987).
Outlet glaciers receive supraglacial debris
from rockfalls, and may contain high-englacial
debris from formation of medial moraines
where tributaries join. Basal melting may
concentrate some of this debris in a basal or
subglacial transport zone, and erosion of the
bed may produce further debris for basal or
subglacial transport.
However, polar ice sheets capable of generating ice shelves typically lack large areas of
rock outcrops and thus lack abundant supraglacial debris and medial moraines. For the
Ross Ice Shelf, about two-thirds of the ice
crossing the grounding line is fed from ice
streams without rock walls (Shabtaie and
Bentley, 1987). This ice may contain some highenglacial debris picked up during flow over
subglacial peaks upstream (Bentley, 1971);
however, the lack of seismic reflections from
such debris beneath the Upstream B camp
(UpB, Fig.2) on ice stream B suggests that such
debris is sparse if present.
It is also unlikely that the ice streams
contain abundant basal debris. Basal debris
may be entrained through freezing (regelation
or net freeze-on) or structural processes (shearing or folding-in). The thickness of the debrisrich basal layer depends on the balance of
further structural deformation, net vertical
strain (compressive or extensional), basal
freezing or melting, and clast dispersion.
Ice streams typically are regions of extensional flow and basal melting. This means that

downward ice velocities exceed upward debris


velocities from local deformation or dispersion
(RSthlisberger, 1968; Weertman, 1968), restricting debris to a thin regelation layer (Weertman, 1964).
Debris-rich basal ice formed in a catchment
area would need to be quite thick to survive
passage down an ice stream. Taking ice stream
B as an example, about 25 m of ice are melted
off the base during passage down the ice
stream, and layers of ice undergo strain
thinning by about a factor of two (calculated
using data from Bindschadler et al. (1987a,b),
Shabtaie and Bentley (1987), Whillans et al.
(1987) and Alley and Bentley (in press)). A
debris-rich basal layer would need to be more
than 50 m thick to survive passage down the
ice stream, much thicker than is likely to occur
(e.g., Gow et al., 1979). Debris-rich ice flowing
from an interstream ridge has a shorter path
along the ice stream and is more likely to
survive to the ice shelf, but the ice volumes
involved are small (Shabtaie and Bentley,
1987).
Two possible special circumstances may
increase the englacial debris of ice stream B.
The downstream end of the ice stream is an ice
plain (Bentley, 1987; see below) with low heat
of sliding. Depending on the exact geothermal
flux, this region may experience slow basal
melting or slow freeze-on of perhaps 0.1 m of
debris-rich basal ice during passage to the
grounding line.
In addition, backpressure from Crary Ice
Rise causes flow to become longitudinally
compressive near the downstream end of ice
stream B, although with lateral extension of
typically greater magnitude (Bindschadler et
al., 1987a,b). Debris may be sheared or folded
into the ice there, or squeezed up into longitudinal basal crevasses. We consider it unlikely
that such structurally entrained debris will be
large compared to other fluxes discussed below, and we make this assumption here, but
further data are needed.
The englacial debris flux from ice stream B
or a similar ice stream thus is likely to be
limited to an active regelation layer only a few

] 06

millimeters thick (Weertman, 1964). Taking the


average thickness of this layer to be about
10mm (Kamb and LaChapelle, 1964; Weertman, 1964) and the debris concentration in it to
be 5% by volume (Sugden and John, 1976,
p.161), and taking the porosity of sub-ice-shelf
sediments to be 25%, the debris flux t hr ough
the regelation layer would equal about 0.3 m 3
a ~ of sediment per meter-width across the 100km-wide mouth of ice stream B (Shabtaie and
Bentley, 1987). Melting of this layer along the
approximately 103-km-long flow band of the
Ross Ice Shelf fed by ice stream B would cause
an average deposition rate of about 0.3 m
Ma 1.
If we allow for possible structurally entrained material, basal freezing on the ice
plains, and possible higher debris concentration for the regelation layer, the estimated
englacial debris flux from ice stream B might
be increased by one or two orders of magnitude. However, the discussion above, plus our
seismic observations at UpB and at the Downstream B camp (DnB, Fig.2) make it highly
unlikely th at englacial debris flux could be
increased by an additional two to three orders
of magnitude beyond this t hr ough occurrence
of a basal debris zone about 100 m thick and
with 10-50% debris by volume (although with
slower ice velocity), as proposed by Drewry
and Cooper (1981).
These calculations suggest t hat englacial
debris transport from ice streams is very slow,
but place no constraints on subglacial debris
transport. Subglacial transport can occur by
deformation of subglacial sediment (Boulton,
1979; Alley et al., 1986) or by stream or waterfilm transport.
Here, however, it is necessary to remember
t h a t water fluxes across ice-shelf grounding
lines are relatively small because ice shelves
generally lack a supply of surface meltwater to
the bed. The water flux from ice stream B,
which averages about 50 km wide, 400 km long,
and drains an area of about 217x103 km 2
(Shabtaie and Bentley, 1987) is probably about
20m 3 s -1 (Weertman and Birchfield, 1982;
Bindschadler, 1983; Lingle and Brown, 1987;

this study). By comparison, the summer water


flux from Columbia Glacier, an Alaskan tidewater glacier only about 5 km wide in its lower
reaches, 67 km long, and draining an area of
1.1 103 km 2 (Meier et al., 1985) is about 400 m *
s i (Walters et al., 1986). The water flux from
ice stream B would fill a single channel about
1.4 m in radius, or a water film about 0.01 m
thick (calculated following Weertman. 1972
and Weertman and Birchfield, 1982).
For a given water flux, the sediment flux is
approximately inversely proportional to the
square of the number of channels through
which it flows (Leopold and Maddock, 1953,
p.21; Bloom, 1978, p.216). To estimate icestream sediment discharge if flow were fully
channelized, we can use an analogy to Variegated Glacier in its pre-surge state. At t hat
time, Variegated Glacier had a sliding velocity
similar to ice stream B, had channelized water
discharge from its lower stream about equal to
the estimated flux from ice stream B, and had a
suspended sediment load of 2.5 kg m - 3 (Humphrey, 1986; Humphrey et al., 1986). Assuming
that suspended sediment is 50% of the total
load (Bloom, 1978, p.213; Hooke et al., 1985),
this would suggest a sediment flux of about
100 kg s 1 from a single channel draining ice
stream B, equivalent to a sub-ice-shelf sedimentation rate of about 10 m 3 a 1 m - 1 width of ice
stream or about 10 m Ma i averaged over the
ice-shelf length.
This is an upper limit for sediment transport in
streams beneath ice stream B. In the lower limit
of l0 T channels 10 mm in diameter, (approximately equal to a 100 km-wide, 10 mm-deep water
film) the simple inverse-square law indicates a
drastic reduction in sediment flux (by about 14
orders of magnitude). A distributed water system
would also be limited to transporting clay and
silt, whereas a single channel would transport
clasts as large as cobbles (Hjulstr6m, 1935, 1939;
Singer and Anderson, 1984).
Several lines of evidence suggest t hat the
distributed water system limit is more nearly
correct than the single-channel limit for most
polar ice streams and outlet glaciers. Although
channels have lower water pressures t han

107

films (Weertman, 1972), theoretical calculations show t h a t the stress distribution around
a channel incised upward into the ice (a
RSthlisberger or R channel) prevents it from
collecting basal water, and that a system of
channels incised downward into rock (Nye or
N channels) can exist and collect basal water
only under special circumstances if channelized surficial meltwater is not supplied to the
bed (Weertman and Birchfield, 1983).
Below we argue that ice stream B rests on a
deforming till. If so, this strengthens the
argument against channelized water flow. Deforming till will creep rapidly into a lowpressure region such as an incipient channel,
unless previously channelized flow reduces the
water pressure enough to increase the till
strength and suppress local deformation (Boulton and Hindmarsh, 1987; Alley, in press).
Thus, channelized surficial meltwater supplied to the bed can remain channelized and
remove large quantities of debris by sweeping
across the bed; however, in the absence of a
channelized source, basal water will tend to
remain in a distributed system and will transport relatively small quantities of relatively
fine-grained sediments. The high basal water
pressures observed directly at Byrd Station
(Fig.l; Alley et al., 1987c) and inferred seismically at UpB (Blankenship et al., 1987) are
significantly above what would occur if water
flow were well channelized (Bindschadler,
1983), confirming out theoretical discussion for
those locations. We thus will assume t h a t there
is little sediment transport by channelized
water beneath ice stream B and similar cold
glaciers.
The reader should note t h a t the above
maximum estimate of stream transport is one
to two orders of magnitude less than the debris
flux by bed deformation estimated below, so
errors in our treatment of stream transport
should not be too significant. Also, Columbia
Glacier has regions of deforming subglacial till
0.1-0.5 m thick (Meier, in press) despite summertime water drainage per unit width of
grounding line about 400 times larger than for
ice stream B, so it seems unreasonable to

expect water drainage to dominate the sediment budget of ice stream B.


Very close to the ice-stream grounding line
(within 0 (1 km)? where the symbol 0(x) means
"of the order of magnitude of x") the ice
approaches flotation as the basal water pressure approaches the overburden pressure, and
this reduces both the till strength and the
tendency for till to creep into R channels. The
possibility then exists of channelized flow of
water or of fluidized debris in this region
(Boulton and Hindmarsh, 1987). However, this
region probably is wide compared to its length,
so it is unlikely t h a t the flow can become
concentrated in one or a few channels.
Estimated sediment fluxes from cold ice
streams and outlet glaciers are listed in
Table 1, although order(s) of magnitude uncertainties are associated with most of these
values. High-englacial and basal fluxes from
outlet glaciers are based in part on Drewry and
Cooper (1981). Transport in subglacial water
streams beneath an ice stream was calculated
above, and we assume similar behavior for
outlet glaciers. Debris flux by till deformation
beneath ice streams is taken from the estimated flux beneath ice stream B, discussed
below; no data are available on whether till
deformation occurs beneath outlet glaciers.
The table illustrates that till deformation, if
active, is likely to dominate sediment flux and
t h a t englacial and stream transport are likely
to be small on outlet glaciers and smaller on
ice streams.
TABLE 1

Possible debris fluxes to an ice shelf from ice streams and


outlet glaciers, in cubic meters of glaciomarine sediment
per meter width of grounding line per year
Debris flux (m 3 m-i a-i)

High englacial
Basal
Streams
Till deformation

Ice stream

Outlet
glacier

0-I
0.i-I
< 0.i
100-1000

0.1-10
0.1-100
0-10
?

Thus far we have considered debris transport


from the main body of grounded ice (although
discussion of debris transport by subglacial
deformation is deferred to below), but we have
ignored the possible role of localized grounding of the ice shelf at pinning points. Two types
of grounding can occur. If the ice shelf
contacts the bed but the region of contact
continues to participate in the main ice-shelf
flow, then ice rumples develop. If the region of
grounding ceases to participate in the main
ice-shelf flow and becomes a local center of ice
outflow, it is an ice rise. Both can contribute
sediment to the ice shelf, but are unlikely to be
significant sources. From Drewry et al. (1982)
and Doake (1985), ice rises account for only
about 0.5% of the area of grounded ice
draining into the Ross Ice Shelf. Flow off ice
rises is very slow, because they have small
accumulation areas. Ice rumples are inferred
to be wet-based (because they exhibit the high
velocities but low driving stresses of ice-shelf
flow) and could experience erosion and supply
debris to the ice shelf. However, ice rumples
are relatively localized regions where the ice is
not grounded too strongly, so rapid erosion in
the absence of falling sea level would quickly
remove the bedrock high causing the ice
rumples and thus remove the source of debris.
E v i d e n c e f r o m ice s t r e a m B

Till deformation
For the last several years, investigators from
the University of Wisconsin, Ohio State University, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center,
the University of Chicago, and other institutions have been conducting a cooperative
glaciological and geophysical survey of the
Siple Coast, which is that region where ice
from West Antarctica drains into the Ross Ice
Shelf (Fig.2). Seismic surveys at the UpB camp
on ice stream B have shown that the ice stream
there is underlain by a layer, several meters
thick, of water-saturated, unconsolidated sediment with about 40% porosity in which the
water pressure is within about 50 kPa (0.5 bar)

of the overburden pressure (Btankenship et al.,


1986, 1987). The layer is continuous, or nearly
so, along a 9 k m line transverse to flow
(Rooney et al., 1987) and along a 12.5 km line in
the direction of flow (Rooney et al., in press b).
The layer has a smooth upper interface with
the ice, but the lower surface is an angular
unconformity that is eroded into flutes about
10m deep and 300-1000m across, oriented
parallel to ice flow. The rocks beneath the
angular unconformity probably are poorly
consolidated Neogene marine or glaciomarine
sediments (Rooney et al., in press a). Preliminary seismic results from the DnB camp (Fig.2)
suggest that the layer is present there and has
a similar thickness (Blankenship et al., in
press).
The high porosity of this several-meter-thick
subglacial layer indicates that it is dilated and
thus is deforming; force-balance and waterbalance calculations also suggest that it is
deforming. We thus have hypothesized (Alley
et al., 1986, 1987a,b) that this layer is a
deforming, water-saturated till similar to that
described by Boulton (1979) beneath BreidamerkurjSkull in Iceland, that it extends beneath
the entire ice stream, that the ice velocity
arises largely from deformation within this till,
and that erosion/remobilization of soft subjacent sediments by clasts in this till has
eroded the observed angular unconformity.
(Drewry (1986, pp.61-62) has discussed the
analogous case of erosion by clasts in ice
frozen to its bed.) In the discussion that follows
we will assume that our interpretation of the
seismic data from UpB as indicating a deforming till is correct; however, the reader should
remember that direct measurement of a velocity profile within the several meter thick layer
beneath a kilometer of ice has not been
conducted, although such measurements are
planned.
We have estimated the velocity profile and
thus the till flux in the layer, and find that it
corresponds to a steady-state erosion rate of
the order of tenths of a millimeter of rock per
year averaged over the catchment area and the
upstream part of the ice stream (Alley et al.,

109
1987a). This sediment flux also requires relatively rapid deposition at the grounding line.
We have estimated (Alley et al., 1987a) a rock
flux of hundreds of cubic meters per year per
meter-width of grounding line, which would
have formed a deposit tens of kilometers long
into water tens of meters deep if the grounding
line has been near its present position for the
last 5-10 ka (Thomas and Bentley, 1978; Greischar and Bentley, 1980). Geophysical data
suggest that such a deposit does exist at the
grounding line of ice stream B (see below).
Till deltas

Terminology for such an extensive grounding-line deposit poses a small problem. Powell
(1981, 1984) argues that grounding-line deposits of ice shelves should be called "morainal
banks", but describes such banks as "elongate
ridges or isolated mounds" comprising
"grounding-line melt-out till, dropped, compound, and residual para-tills...fluvial sediment and sediment gravity flow deposits"
(Powell, 1984, p.19). The features we propose
here are not elongate ridges or isolated
mounds, and, as described below, we believe
that they comprise basal-till topsets with
minor sorted sediments, and gravity-flow
foresets and bottomsets; the topsets will
parallel the base of the ice and may dip
upstream. Other possible terms, such as kame
delta, delta kame, kame moraine, and delta
moraine carry implications of dominance by
meltwater or subaerial, ice-marginal deposition (Sugden and John, 1976; Bates and Jackson, 1980). We have informally termed these
deposits "till deltas" to emphasize their deltalike nature and the likely dominance of till in
the topset beds (Alley et al., 1987a), and we will
continue this informal usage here until such
time as a more formal terminology can be
established.
A thick, extensive accumulation of sediment
near the grounding line, where the water
pressure is almost as large as the overburden
pressure, would be quite soft and would
support only a small basal shear stress. This in

turn requires a small ice-air surface slope


which implies a small pressure gradient driving water flow, a thickened water film, and
enhanced sliding between ice and till in
addition to ongoing till deformation. The base
of an ice shelf typically rises downstream, and
if sediment filling the sub-ice-shelf cavity
retained this slope, water drainage would be
slowed further. The downglacier end of a till
delta is the grounding line, where flotation
begins, and we have called the upglacier end
the "coupling line" (Fig.3; Alley et al., 1987a)
where the ice-stream surface slope decreases
onto the delta.
It seems unlikely that water drainage or
possible basal freeze-on over the till delta could
remove most of the till supplied from upglacier
by deformation, as discussed above, although
limited sediment sorting might occur. Deformation then must continue across the delta,
creating a several-meter-thick topset bed that
may have a shallow (_< 1 ) upglacier dip. The
highly unconsolidated, water-saturated sediment transported through this topset must lose
contact with the ice at the grounding line,
leading to slumping and development of foreset
and bottomset beds of turbidites and debrisflow deposits (Prior et al., 1981; Powell, 1984).
The depositional dip of foreset beds might be
similar to dips in other low-energy, turbiditedominated, progradational clastic settings, or
about 1 or less in the downstream direction
(Mitchum et al., 1977; Sangree and Widmier,
1977).

COUPLING
GROUNDING
ICE
LINE
LINE
FRONT
CE STREAM
I
DELTA
I CE SHELF ISEA WATER

MAX.

ORESETS

%~%~

BEDROCK

Fig.3. C a r t o o n o f the l i k e l y c o n f i g u r a t i o n o f the ice stream,


t i ] ] delta, and ice shelf.

110

When we first predicted the existence of a


large, lobate region of grounded ice at the
mouth of ice stream B, the grounding line was
mapped as shown by the lightly dashed line in
Fig.2, with a surface slope immediately upstream of the grounding line about equal to
values farther upstream (Rose, 1979). Detailed
mapping using satellite altimetry and airborne-radar data now has shown that the
grounding line is as indicated by the solid line
in Fig.2, tens of kilometers downstream of the
old grounding line (Shabtaie and Bentley,
1987). The surface slope on the newly discovered regions of grounded ice, or "ice plains"
(Bentley, 1987), is significantly less than on the
main part of the ice stream and is almost as
small as ice-shelf values (Shabtaie and Bentley,
1987).
Reinterpretation of seismic data collected
during RIGGS on the ice plains suggests that,
at least in most places, they are underlain by
water-saturated, unconsolidated sediments
probably tens of meters thick (Shabtaie and
Bentley, 1987). Preliminary analysis of new
seismic data from near the DnB camp (Fig.2)
shows a several-meters-thick layer overlying a
unit tens of meters thick containing beds
dipping downstream at about one half of a
degree; these may be the predicted topset and
foresets (Blankenship et al., in press). The
grounding line mapped by Rose (1979) probably
represents the coupling line.
Of course, the simple existence of unconsolidated sediments beneath an ice shelf does not
demonstrate that the sediments were transported by subglacial deformation. Rapid melting of debris-rich basal ice at the grounding
line and discharge of subglacial melt streams
can form morainal banks at grounding lines
(Powell, 1984). Melt-stream discharge would
build a deltaic deposit, but this would have
sorted sediments and thus would tend to have
steeper foreset beds, perhaps dipping 1-10
(Mitchum et al., 1977; Sangree and Widmier,
1977). Basal melt-out probably would produce a
dropstone diamicton layer lacking deltaic
form .

Based on radar data, Drewry et al. (1980,

p.48) suggested that part of the grounding line


of the Filchner Ice Shelf is "just touching a sea
floor, composed of soft, water saturated sediment". Drewry and Cooper (1981) noted that
this zone was tens of kilometers wide and
suggested that it was formed by sedimentation
owing to debris melt-out filling the sub-iceshelf cavity. A similar zone of soft basal
sediments in contact with ice near the grounding line in a region previously assumed to be
afloat was discovered by drilling on the Lazarev Ice Shelf (Korotkevich et al., 1978). In the
case of ice stream B, the sediment volume
beneath the ice plains seems too large to have
been deposited by melt-out or by subglacial
streams without a deforming till in the time
during which the grounding line has been near
its present position (assuming that this sediment is post-Wisconsinan), and the seismically
observed sedimentary structures resemble
those expected from a deforming till. A deforming till cannot be ruled out for the Filchner Ice
Shelf and elsewhere, but data to assess this are
not available.

Implications of till deltas


The existence of till deltas introduces certain
other interesting possibilities. Because of the
small surface slope over a till delta, a relatively
small rise in sea level could cause a relatively
large grounding-line retreat. For example, on
ice stream B a sea-level rise of about 25 m would
cause a grounding-line retreat of about 75 km
(Shabtaie and Bentley, 1987). However, this
would introduce a water layer varying from
25 m thick at the old grounding line to zero
thickness at the new grounding line, and the
estimated sediment flux from the ice stream of
hundreds of cubic meters per year per meterwidth would fill this water layer with sediment
in only 0(103 a). Sea-level rise slower than
0(10- 2 m a- 1) would be compensated entirely by
sedimentation on the till delta of ice stream B
and would cause no grounding-line retreat
(Shabtaie and Bentley, 1987).
The stabilizing effect of sedimentation on
grounding-line position would he lost if the

111
sediment supply were terminated. It now is
clear t h a t ice stream C was an active ice
stream t h a t stopped about two centuries ago
(Shabtaie and Bentley, 1987). This stoppage
reduced the ice flux across the grounding line
and ongoing ice-shelf spreading is causing
thinning of the ice there; the effect of such
thinning on grounding-line position is analogous to the effect of sea-level rise. The stoppage also ended sediment supply to the grounding line (presuming t h a t ice stream C moved by
a simiPar mechanism to ice stream B). The
grounding line of ice stream C now is retreating in response to the thinning ice (Thomas et
al., in press), and the shape of the grounding
line (Fig.2) suggests t h a t it has retreated tens
of kilometers along most of the ice-shelf front
since ice stream C became inactive. (The
region of ice stream C closest to ice stream B
may have remained grounded on its till delta
thus far because flow lines from ice stream B
have bent towards ice stream C (Shabtaie and
Bentley, 1987), partially replacing the ice loss
from stoppage of ice stream C and preventing
rapid thinning of ice there.)
Another interesting possibility comes from
our calculation, above, that partial ice-till
decoupling across a thickened water film on
the till delta reduces the flux of deforming till
below its maximum possible value. If any
perturbation to the system were to thin the
water film, till flux across the delta would
increase by erosion of the head of the delta. For
example, a falling sea level would increase the
interaction of the ice shelf with pinning points
downstream, increasing the backstress and
probably causing the ice over the till delta to
thicken and steepen to maintain force balance.
This would increase the pressure gradient
driving water flow, thin the water film, increase ice-till coupling, and cause till flux
across the delta to exceed till input from
upstream of the delta (Alley et al., 1987a). This
would give the classic '~conveyor belt" grounding-line advance (Powell, 1984), in which the
upstream end of the delta (the coupling line)
and the grounding line advance through sediment recycling. Behind the advancing till delta

would be an extended ice stream lubricated by


a thin till layer. This idea figures in our
hypothesis for the Quaternary history of the
Ross Embayment, discussed below.

Sedimentary history of the Ross


Embayment: A unified hypothesis
The sedimentary history of the Ross Sea now
is receiving considerable attention and has
spawned much controversy; both depositional
environments and ages of sediments sampled
are subject to dispute. This is due largely to a
shortage of samples, the highly reworked
character of most materials sampled, and
ongoing refinement of biostratigraphic zonations (Karl et al., 1987).
Our new evidence concerning the physics of
glacier flow on ice stream B gives us considerable insight into how the system may have
responded to sea-level fluctuations t h a t are
known to have occurred in the past. We find
(Alley et al., 1987a) that the likely response of
the ice sheet to sea-level fluctuations would
lead to a sedimentary sequence similar to that
described by some observers. Here we will give
a brief summary of observations of sediments
from the Ross Embayment, including areas of
controversy, and then will present our hypothesis for the sedimentary history and show
how it relates to the observations.
Observations
To summarize from Houtz and Davey (1973),
Hayes and Frakes (1975), Anderson et al.
(1984), Dunbar et al. (1985), and Karl et al.
(1987), the modern Ross Sea (Fig.4) is underlain
by a sedimentary column typically hundreds of
meters thick. The upper part of this sedimentary column contains a prominent unconformity, often called the Ross Sea unconformity,
at a depth of < 2 m to about 40 m below the sea
floor. Erosion on this unconformity may have
amounted to as much as several hundred
meters. This erosion probably occurred beneath grounded ice, although marine bottom
currents have been suggested as a possible

i0 o
I%

0 8 0 o)
4o

6o

2+

4+

/'

:1

,/

/,
d~

\
BYRD
5 o ~ - - i

]oc

j
!

~I~O~/,A"

750"

\\',,,

e^

9oii

I1!
k

EDWARD"

I.

t
i
+3o~L-

/]

i
15o

. . . . . .

" " ~

;'5oS-_

17

Fig.4. B a t h y m e t r y (depth below sea level in meters of the base of the water column or of the grounded ice) of Ross Sea and
most of the area of W e s t A n t a r c t i c a draining into it. T h e contour interval c h a n g e s from 50 m in the Ross Sea and under the
Ross Ice Shelf to 250 m b e n e a t h the West Antarctic inland ice. On a grid scale, ] = 111 km. Byrd Station, Upstream B camp
(UpB), and J9 are shown. From B e n t l e y and J e z e k {1981).

113
cause (Mercer and Sutter, 1982). This unconformity is overlain by an unstratified or poorly
stratified diamicton, which in turn is overlain
by a thin veneer of Holocene sediments comprising ice-rafted clasts, terrigenous silt and
clay, and biogenic silica; in this Holocene layer
ice-rafted debris is sparse near the front of the
Ross Ice Shelf, indicating that little englacial
debris reaches the ice-shelf front but is more
abundant where outlet glaciers drain into the
Ross Sea. The transition from the unstratified
diamicton just above the unconformity to the
modern sediments is marked by a water-sorted
unit 0.1-0.5 m thick at some sites (Kellogg et
al., 1979) but not in most locations (Anderson
et al., 1984).
The ages of the Ross Sea unconformity and
of the overlying diamicton are uncertain
(Hayes and Frakes, 1975; Kellogg et al., 1979;
Savage and Ciesielski, 1983), but the unconformity probably is Pliocene or Pleistocene in
age. Based on appearance, grain-size distribution and other characteristics, Kellogg et al.
(1979), Anderson et al. (1980, 1984), and others
have argued that the diamicton above the Ross
Sea unconformity is a basal till. Anderson et
al. (1984) show that populations of transported
clasts in this material are not mixed, but are
traceable to discrete sources in the Transantarctic Mountains and in West Antarctica.
Truswell and Drewry (1984) demonstrated that
pollen grains in the diamicton also are traceable to discrete sources. This shows that
deposition occurred from a grounded ice sheet,
or from an ice shelf with marine currents too
slow to mix pollen, rather than from floating
icebergs. Estimated sedimentation rates of
6-8 m Ma 1 (Hayes and Frakes, 1975) seem too
high for sedimentation beneath an ice shelf fed
by West Antarctic ice streams, as discussed
above, so we consider that this diamicton
probably is a basal till. Notice, however, that
several authors including Hayes and Frakes
(1975) and Fillon (1979) have interpreted the
diamicton as glaciomarine rather than as basal
till.
Beneath the Ross Ice Shelf, data are available only from the J9 site, downstream of ice

stream B, where the bed is about 590 m below


sea level (Figs.2 and 4; see Clough and Hansen,
1979). Sediments were collected there to a
maximum depth of about 1 m. These sediments
originally were interpreted as a dropstone
diamicton of Miocene age containing clasts
transported from the Siple Coast; observed
differences between the upper 0.1-0.2 m and
deeper material were interpreted as the result
of diagenesis in situ (Webb et al., 1979).
Vigorous debate has focused on whether Pliocene or Pleistocene fossils are present in the
material, which certainly is dominated by
Miocene forms (e.g., Kellogg and Kellogg,
1981, 1983; Brady, 1983; Kellogg and Kellogg,
1986). More recent studies (Harwood, 1986;
Harwood et al., in press a, b) question whether
any undoubtedly post-Miocene diatoms occur
at J9 and support a Middle-Late Miocene age
for the youngest documented event of marine
productivity in the interior Ross Embayment.
Anderson et al. (1980) have reconsidered the
physical properties of the J9 sediments and
conclude that the sediment probably is a basal
till rather than a dropstone diamicton. However, Harwood et al. (in press b) present
evidence suggestive of a dropstone origin. A
basal till might contain only recycled fossils
from its source area, whereas a water-lain
sediment probably would contain some fossils
indicative of the time of deposition. In this
regard it is worth noting that Raiswell and Tan
(1985) have interpreted the chemistry of the J9
cores as indicating Pleistocene deposition of at
least the upper 0.1-0.2m, and possibly the
entire length.
North of the Ross S e a , the continental rise
and abyssal plain are blanketed by a Tertiary
sedimentary wedge hundreds of meters to
kilometers thick (Hayes and Frakes, 1975).
Miocene to Recent sediments in this wedge
contain clasts transported by ice (Hayes and
Frakes, 1975).

Glaciological considerations
Some glaciological models, including those
of Thomas and Bentley (1978) and Stuiver et al.

114

(1981) have reconstructed the Wisconsinanmaximum West Antarctic ice sheet as having
advanced to the edge of the continental shelf
and having developed an equilibrium, East
Antarctic-type surface profile characterized by
a steep surface slope near the coast and thick
ice with a gradual surface slope inland. Other
authors have suggested that the Wisconsinanmaximum West Antarctic ice sheet was
grounded in what is now the Ross Sea but
exhibited a low, ice-stream surface profile
(Thomas, 1979; Denton et al., 1986; Alley et al.,
1987a). Drewry (1979) summarizes evidence
from West Antarctica against an equilibrium
high-profile ice sheet in the Ross Sea, noting
that such an ice sheet would require greater
increases in ice thickness in the vicinity of
Byrd Station than are allowed by the data of
Whillans (1976) and Robin (1977). Drewry (1979)
then presents the hypothesis that the Ross Ice
Shelf expanded during the Wisconsinan but
that the grounding line advanced only about
as far as J9.
The Ross Embayment is relatively deep near
the modern grounding line, shallows outward
to the edge of the continental shelf, and has
relatively constant width from the modern
grounding line to the shelf edge (Fig.4). In the
absence of large increases in marginal ablation, a sufficiently large sea-level drop for a
sufficiently long time necessarily would allow
the Ross Ice Shelf to become fully grounded
and allow grounded ice to expand to the edge
of the continental shelf, regardless of basal
conditions. The minimum sea-level drop required for this to occur has been termed a
critical value and estimated as about
120-130m for 0(103--104 a) (Weertman, 1974;
Thomas and Bentley, 1978; Drewry, 1979; see
also discussion by R.H. Thomas appended to
Drewry, 1979).
The ability of a morainal bank or till delta to
cause grounding in water t h a t otherwise is too
deep (Powell, 1984) suggests that conveyor belt
recycling of a till delta would allow groundingline advance to the edge of the continental
shelf for a sea-level drop less than the critical
value. In this case, the rate of grounding-line

advance would be limited by the rate of' tilldelta recycling. Data summarized by Drewry
(1979) show that the actual Wisconsinanmaximum drop in sea level was within a few
meters or tens of meters of this critical value,
but whether the critical value was achieved for
a sufficiently long time, if at all, is uncertain.

Hypothesis
Wisconsinan-maximum sea-level fall caused
the grounding line of the West Antarctic Ice
Sheet to advance across the Ross Sea to the
edge of the continental shelf. Sea-level fall
caused increased interaction of the ice shelf
with pinning points, increasing backstress on
grounded ice and causing ice over the heads of
till deltas to steepen and thicken to maintain
force balance. This caused the water film at the
ice-till interface to thin and increased the icetill coupling and the till flux across the delta.
The resulting conveyor-belt recycling of the
delta accompanied the grounding-line advance, and may have been required to allow
the grounding-line advance if the actual sealevel fall was less t h a n the critical value for a
grounded ice sheet in the Ross Sea without till
deltas.
Grounding-line advance led to a low-profile
ice sheet. Much of the newly grounded ice sheet
was occupied by ice streams, but slow-moving
ridges betweem ice streams may have existed,
perhaps at Crary Ice Rise and elsewhere, and
may have been frozen to their beds locally. The
ice streams were lubricated by water-saturated
till layers some meters thick, with erosion
(including remobilization of older till) occurring beneath the till. Lubricating till for the ice
streams was supplied by advection from upstream, by local remobilization and erosion,
and by recycling of till deltas. This till was
transported to the grounding line at the edge of
the continental shelf, where it built till deltas
and/or slumped downward to the abyssal
plain.
During post-Wisconsinan sea-level rise the
ice was floated off the bed to leave a continuous layer of basal till several meters thick

115
across the Ross Sea. Sorted sand layers of the
type reported by Kellogg et al. (1979) were left
locally during grounding-line retreat where
water flows were concentrated, and the till
layer may have thickened locally as till deltas
began to develop during any pauses in grounding-line retreat. The grounding line eventually
stabilized near its present position about
5,000-10,000 years ago owing to cessation of
sea-level rise and to backstresses from interactionq of the Ross Ice Shelf with its sides and
with pinning points (Thomas and Bentley,
1978); deposition of modern till deltas then
began. Floating of frozen-on regions of slowmoving grounded ice during grounding-line
retreat may have allowed localized dropstone
sedimentation during subsequent basal melting, as proposed for the Filchner-Ronne Ice
Shelf by Orheim and Elverhoi (1981).
These events may have occurred several
times, during the latest Pliocene-Pleistocene,
and possibly before. In each case, erosion
beneath the grounded ice may have occurred
wholly within the basal tills from earlier
advances or may have cut through earlier tills
to the older glaciomarine sediments beneath
the Ross Sea unconformity. The Ross Sea unconformity thus may represent one or several
latest Pliocene-Pleistocene erosional events,
and the overlying till may have been deposited
by the latest advance or may include material
from several advances. The number of advances
that contributed to erosion of the Ross Sea
unconformity and to deposition of the overlying till may vary geographically. The unconformity observed at the base of the deforming
till at UpB is the inland extension of the Ross
Sea unconformity, and is still being eroded.

Test of hypothesis
The hypothesis presented above makes a
number of testable predictions. The hypothesis
requires that the material resting on the Ross
Sea unconformity is a basal till, as argued by
Anderson et al. (1980). It also seems to require
that the material at site J9 is a basal till or
some part of a till delta that was deposited

during the Pleistocene. However, the hypothesis does not require the J9 material to contain
Pleistocene fossils. This is because the large
fluxes of till envisioned here should allow
~'flushing out" of younger forms deposited near
J9, so that only sediments eroded upglacier
beneath the grounded ice of the West Antarctic
ice sheet or from deeper, older sediments in the
vicinity of J9 would be observed in the till
there. We thus would expect the youngest
abundant fossils at J9 to be no younger than
the most recent period of marine productivity
in the region now occupied by the grounded
West Antarctic ice sheet.
Testing of our hypothesis clearly requires
resolution of the existing conflicts about the
age and depositional mode of sediments in the
Ross Sea and beneath the Ross Ice Shelf. In
addition, further geophysical and drilling
studies are needed of deforming till and the till
delta beneath ice stream B. We also need to
develop the modeling capability to quantify
this hypothesis and to use it to make further
testable predictions regarding sediments in the
Ross Sea.

Summary
Development of ice shelves is favored by
rapid flow of cold ice from outlet glaciers or ice
streams into protected embayments with localized high spots. Modern ice shelves largely are
restricted to the Antarctic, and the Ross and
Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf together contain
most of the world's shelf ice. Sediment can be
transported to an ice shelf englacially (either
basally, high englacially, or rarely, supraglacially) or subglacially (by meltwater streams or a
deforming bed). Ice from outlet glaciers may
contain significant englacial debris, and subsequent basal melt-out will cause deposition of a
dropstone diamicton. In contrast, ice supplied
from ice streams is unlikely to contain significant englacial debris, and meltwater transport
is likely to be small because of the small water
production of polar glaciers. In the absence of
a deforming basal till, an ice-stream-fed ice
shelf will have slow sedimentation, probably

116

concentrated near the grounding line from


melt-out of debris in a regelation layer several
millimeters thick and from water transport,
with essentially zero sedimentation away from
the grounding line.
Evidence from the UpB camp on ice stream B
draining into the Ross Ice Shelf suggests that
much of the ice velocity arises from deformation of a several-meter-thick, water-saturated
subglacial till that is eroding an angular
unconformity on subjacent sediments. Continuity arguments then led us to suggest that the
till flux has caused post-Wisconsinan deposition of lobate "till deltas" tens of kilometers
long and tens of meters thick at the mouth of
the ice stream th at are characterized by partial
decoupling between ice and till across a water
film and by a small surface slope. The subsequent discovery by Shabtaie and Bentley (1987)
o f " i c e plains" at the mouth of ice stream B and
adjacent ice streams, lobate in form, tens of
kilometres long and having a small surface
slope, and the limited seismic evidence that
these ice plains are underlain by unconsolidated, water-saturated sediments tens of
meters thick, lends credence to our ideas. The
estimated till flux from ice stream B is about
1 0 2 1 0 3 m 3 a 1 m i width of grounding line,
with deposition concentrated almost exclusively in grounding-line till deltas. The till
deltas probably consist of a topset region of
deformed till 0(10m) thick with debris-flow
foresets and bottomsets; they may be capped by
a thin layer (0(0.1 m) or less) of water-sorted
sediment in some areas.
Observations of age and depositional environment of younger sediments in the Ross
Sea are disputed, but it seems likely t hat the
Ross Sea contains a glacially eroded, regional
unconformity (the Ross Sea unconformity) at a
depth of < 2 m to about 40 m below the sea bed
t h a t is overlain by a continuous layer of latest
Pliocene-Pleistocene basal till; the till is
capped by a horizontally discontinuous, thin
(0(0.1 m)) layer of sorted sediment and by a thin
(0(0.1-1m)) layer of Holocene biogenic sediment with a varying amount of ice-rafted
debris.

Our new observations of processes beneath


ice stream B suggest the hypothesis that sealevel fall caused by growth of n o r t h e r n hemisphere ice sheets would have allowed the
grounding line of the Ross Ice Shelf to advance
to the edge of the continental shelf, aided by
"conveyor-belt" recycling of till deltas at the
grounding line and perhaps requiring the
thickness of till deltas to allow grounding.
The newly grounded ice sheet would have had
a low, ice-stream profile and would have been
lubricated by a several-meter-thick, watersaturated till layer that eroded subjacent
sediments. Subsequent sea-level rise would
have refloated the ice, leaving a several-meterthick till layer exposed at the sea floor or
locally capped by a t hi nner layer of sorted
sediment formed by water flow at the ice-till
interface.
If this hypothesis is correct the Ross Sea
unconformity was formed by erosion beneath
one or more latest Pliocene-Pleistocene
grounded ice sheets in the Ross Sea, and the
till on top of the unconformity represents the
lubricating material from one or more advances; these advances probably include a
Wisconsinan-maximum event. Also, the unconformity being eroded beneath the deforming
tilt at UpB is the inland extension of the Ross
Sea unconformity. In the absence of special
pleading, this hypothesis requires t hat the
material sampled at J9 is a basal till or till
delta deposited during the last (Wisconsinanmaximum?) ice advance. However, owing to
the high till fluxes in our model, we expect that
the material at J9 is almost entirely transported from upstream beneath currently
grounded ice or eroded from deeper, older
sediments near J9 and may contain few or no
fossils indicative of the age of the most recent
reworking event. Geophysical and glaciological studies planned on the Siple Coast over the
next few years by us and by cooperating
investigators should shed much light on the
processes of till deformation and till-delta
deposition; further work on the sediments of
the Ross Sea and beneat h the Ross Ice Shelf
also is required to test our hypothesis.

117

Acknowledgements
We thank J.B. Anderson and D.M. Harwood
for helpful comments, R. Powell and A. Elverhoi for organizing a fruitful symposium, A.N.
Mares for manuscript preparation, and P.B.
Dombrowski and S.H. Smith for figure preparation. This work was supported in part by the
U.S. National Science Foundation under grant
DPP84-12404. This is contribution number 479
of the Geophysical and Polar Research Center,
University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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