Studying the history of ice-sheet behaviour in the Ross Sea, Antarctica’s largest drainage basin can improve our understanding of patterns and controls on marine-based ice-sheet dynamics and provide constraints for numerical ice-sheet models. Newly collected high-resolution multibeam bathymetry data, combined with two decades of legacy multibeam and seismic data, are used to map glacial landforms and reconstruct palaeo ice-sheet drainage.
During the Last Glacial Maximum, grounded ice reached the continental shelf edge in the eastern but not western Ross Sea. Recessional geomorphic features in the western Ross Sea indicate virtually continuous back-stepping of the ice-sheet grounding line. In the eastern Ross Sea, well-preserved linear features and a lack of small-scale recessional landforms signify rapid lift-off of grounded ice from the bed. Physiography exerted a first-order control on regional ice behaviour, while sea floor geology played an important subsidiary role.
Previously published deglacial scenarios for Ross Sea are based on low-spatial-resolution marine data or terrestrial observations; however, this study uses high-resolution basin-wide geomorphology to constrain grounding-line retreat on the continental shelf. Our analysis of retreat patterns suggests that (1) retreat from the western Ross Sea was complex due to strong physiographic controls on ice-sheet drainage; (2) retreat was asynchronous across the Ross Sea and between troughs; (3) the eastern Ross Sea largely deglaciated prior to the western Ross Sea following the formation of a large grounding-line embayment over Whales Deep; and (4) our glacial geomorphic reconstruction converges with recent numerical models that call for significant and complex East Antarctic ice sheet and West Antarctic ice sheet contributions to the ice flow in the Ross Sea.