The Role of Currents and Sea Ice in Both Slowly Deposited Central Arctic and Rapidly Deposited Chukchi–Alaskan Margin Sediments

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Global and Planetary Change

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Arctic Ocean, sedimentation rates, sedimentology, sea ice, drift deposits




A study of three long cores from the outer shelf and continental slope north of Alaska in the Arctic Ocean indicate that localized drift deposits occur here with sedimentation rates of more than 1.5 m/kyr during the Holocene. Currents in this area average about 5–20 cm/s but can reach 100 cm/s and these velocities transport the sediment found in these cores primarily as intermittent suspended load. These high accumulation sediments form levee-like deposits associated with margins of canyons cutting across the shelf and slope. Unlike most textural investigations of Arctic sediment that focus on the coarser ice-rafted detritus (IRD), this paper focuses on the > 95% of the sediment, which is finer than 45 μm. The mean size of this fraction varies between 6 and 15 μm in Holocene sediments from the Chukchi–Alaskan shelf and slope with the higher values closer to shore. Analysis of detailed size distributions of these Holocene deposits are compared to 34 sediment samples collected from sea ice across the Arctic Ocean and to Holocene sediment from central Arctic Ocean cores and indicate that similar textural parameters occur in all of these sediments. Principal components of these size distributions indicate that sea ice is an important link between the shelves and the central Arctic. Factor scores indicate nearly identical components in the clay and fine silt size fractions but very different components in the coarse silt for sea ice sediment and central Arctic ridge sediments compared to shelf and continental slope deposits. Sea ice must contribute to sedimentation in both of these Arctic regions, but bottom currents dominate in the slope region, forming drift deposits.