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Late Quaternary Paleoceanography and Glacial Dynamics in the Beaufort Sea - An IODP Proposal for Future Scientific Drilling

Matt O'Regan1, Anne de Vernal2, Claude Hillaire-Marcel2, Martin Jakobsson3, Kathryn Moran4, André Rochon5, and Guillaume St-Onge5
1Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom.
2GEOTOP, Université du Québec à Montréal, Montreal, QC, Canada.
3Department of Geological Sciences, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden.
4Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, Narragansett, RI.
5Institut des Sciences de la Mer (ISMER), Rimouski, QC, Canada.

Arctic continental margins and shallow seas are areas of increasingly intense scientific, political, and socio-economic interest. This arises from the acute and growing awareness of the rapidly changing sea ice conditions in the Arctic, which have cascading effects of regional and global significance. For example, the reduction of sea ice in the Arctic alters biogeochemical cycling and ecosystem dynamics on which indigenous peoples depend for survival. It impacts global climate, and has likely exerted a profound impact on past climates, through changes to the freshwater balance and surface albedo. Its disappearance can enhance rates of coastal erosion and through associated oceanic warming and global sea-level rise, may degrade permafrost deposits and destabilize terrestrial and marine hydrate deposits. An improved understanding of how these processes evolved on geologic timescales is needed to improve predictions of how they will change in the near future. An initial step towards tackling these questions was recently taken through the submission of a preliminary proposal to the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program to target late Quaternary sediments deposited in the Mackenzie Trough of the Canadian Beaufort Sea. The principal aims of the proposal are to: 1) decipher the late Quaternary glacial dynamics of the Northwestern Laurentide Ice Sheet and associated changes in sea level, 2) constrain the timing and flux of freshwater discharge from the Mackenzie River and directly test the hypothesis that catastrophic outflow from glacial Lake Agassiz initiated the Younger Dryas cold period, and 3) construct high-resolution multi-proxy paleoceanographic and paleoclimatic time-series to understand how sea ice variability is linked with oceanographic, atmospheric and terrestrial changes across late Quaternary glacial cycles. Although largely centered on Quaternary paleoclimate studies, it’s focus on past glacial dynamics and sea level rise has clear overlap with marine permafrost, hydrate and geohazard studies on the continental shelf. Discussions have begun on how to expand this preliminary proposal to tackle wider issues of environmental change and associated hazards on Arctic continental shelves. As a preliminary proposal there remains room for broadening the participant base and targeting additional themes that are of most value and interest to those working in the Beaufort Sea and other marginal settings of the rapidly changing Arctic Ocean.


AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90130©2011 3P Arctic, The Polar Petroleum Potential Conference & Exhibition, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, 30 August-2 September, 2011.