Interpreting Antarctic Sediment Cores: A Record of Dynamic Neogene Climate

Larry Krissek, Ohio State University; Kate Pound, St. Cloud State University; Kristen St. John, James Madison University (mailto:stjohnke@jmu.edu); Megan Jones, North Hennepin Community College; Mark Leckie, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
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Summary

This exercise set focuses on the use of sedimentary facies (lithologies interpreted to record particular depositional environments) to interpret paleoenvironmental and paleoclimatic changes in Neogene sediment cores from the Antarctic margin. Particular attention is given to characteristics of ice-proximal and ice-distal facies in high-latitude settings.

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Context

Audience

Mid to upper level undergraduate courses in sedimentology, stratigraphy, climate change, historical geology, and paleoclimatology.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

None required, but prior exposure to the following topics would be helpful: Antarctic geography, nature of the cryosphere, basic knowledge of what a sediment core is, general stratigraphic principles and functionality of a stratigraphic column and core logs, basic understanding of geologic time scale, introductory knowledge of orbital cyclicity (Milankovitch Cycles).

How the activity is situated in the course

It is a 3-part exercise sequence. This has been used in a sedimentology-stratigraphy course. Some parts can be assigned as homework as pre-class assignments. This exercise can stand alone, but also can follow the exercise set on Antarctica and Neogene Global Climate Change (in the SERC Teaching Climate Change collection).

Goals

Content/concepts goals for this activity

Goal: to assess the nature of Antarctic climate change during the Neogene.

Objectives: After completing this exercise students should be able to:
  1. Recognize and differentiate among the different primary sedimentary facies proximal to and distal from ice in high-latitude settings and connect each facies to a particular depositional environment.
  2. Apply their understanding of facies and the lithologic log of the ANDRILL 1-B core to write a brief history of Neogene climate and environmental conditions in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica.
  3. Qualitatively and quantitatively describe the patterns of deposition in the Pliocene, and correlate these to orbitally-driven cycles of insolation change.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Making observations; recognizing patterns; making and testing hypotheses; interpreting data from photos, diagrams, tables, and maps; performing calculations (e.g., rates); integrating and drawing broad conclusion.

Other skills goals for this activity

Working with real data, working from multiple perspectives; identifying and working with assumptions and ambiguity, written communication; making persuasive and well supported arguments.

Description of the activity/assignment

This set of investigations focuses on the use of sedimentary facies (lithologies interpreted to record particular depositional environments) to interpret paleoenvironmental and paleoclimatic changes in Neogene sediment cores from the Antarctic margin. Particular attention is given to characteristics of settings close to the ice (ice-proximal) and far from the ice (ice-distal) in high-latitude settings. In Part 1, students build their knowledge of polar sediment lithologies and the corresponding facies through conceptual diagrams, geological reasoning, and use of core images and core logs (a graphical summary of the sediments). In Part 2, the core log for the entire 1285m ANDRILL 1-B core is presented. Students characterize each of the key lithostratigraphic subdivisions and use their knowledge of depositional facies to write a brief history of the Neogene climatic and environmental conditions in the Ross Sea region. In Part 3, students use their core log reading skills and facies knowledge to evaluate patterns in the Pliocene sediments from ANDRILL 1-B. They quantitatively correlate patterns in their dataset with cycles in insolation (incoming solar radiation), influenced by changes in the Earth's orbit during the Pliocene.

Determining whether students have met the goals

The following short answer/essay questions could be used to assess student learning following completion of this exercise set:
  1. Differentiate among the primary sedimentary facies proximal to and distal from ice in high-latitude settings and connect each facies to a particular depositional environment.
  2. Using an example for ANDRILL 1-B, explain how a stratigraphic sequence at one location captures the laterally shifting environments though time (i.e., Walthers Law).
  3. Question 6 from Part 2 is an excellent assessment for this exercise. It asks: write a history of climatic and environmental conditions at the site of ANDRILL-1B, from the time of deposition of LSU 6.4 to the time of deposition of LSU 1. Describe the environments present during deposition of each LSU, the stability or variability of conditions, and whether you would classify that interval as a time dominated by ice (glacials), a time dominated by the absence of ice (interglacials), or a time of repeated glacial–interglacial cycles.
  4. Students who complete both this exercise set (Interpreting Antarctic Sediment Cores: A Record of Dynamic Neogene Climate) and the exercise set on Antarctica and Neogene Global Climate Change (also in the SERC Teaching Climate Change collection) could be asked to describe how scientific understanding evolves with the acquisition of new data and application of new methods/technology.
  5. What evidence is there of orbitally-driven climate variations in Antarctica in the Neogene? Be specific, by drawing on what you learned from Part 3.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

This exercise is an open access chapter from: St. John, K., Leckie, R.M., Pound, K., Jones, M., and Krissek, L., 2012. Reconstructing Earth's Climate History: Inquiry-based Exercises for Lab and Class. Wiley-Blackwell, 485p; http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-EHEP002690.html.

For other open access chapters from this book go to: http://www.wiley.com/legacy/wileychi/stjohn/sample_chapters.html.

References used in constructing this exercise include:

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