Expedition 374 Summary

Robert M. McKay, Victoria University of Wellington
Laura De Santis, Instituto Nazionale di Oceanografia e di Geofisica Sperimentale (OGS)
Denise K. Kulhanek, Texas A&M University
Imogen M. Browne, University of South Florida
Amelia E. Shevenell, University of South Florida

Abstract

The marine-based West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) is currently locally retreating because of shifting wind-driven oceanic currents that transport warm waters toward the ice margin, resulting in ice shelf thinning and accelerated mass loss. Previous results from geologic drilling on Antarctica’s continental margins show significant variability in ice sheet extent during the late Neogene and Quaternary. Climate and ice sheet models indicate a fundamental role for oceanic heat in controlling ice sheet variability over at least the past 20 My. Although evidence for past ice sheet variability is available from ice-proximal marine settings, sedimentary sequences from the continental shelf and rise are required to evaluate the extent of past ice sheet variability and the associated forcings and feedbacks. International Ocean Discovery Program Expedition 374 drilled a latitudinal and depth transect of five sites from the outer continental shelf to rise in the central Ross Sea to resolve Neogene and Quaternary relationships between climatic and oceanic change and WAIS evolution. The Ross Sea was targeted because numerical ice sheet models indicate that this sector of Antarctica responds sensitively to changes in ocean heat flux. Expedition 374 was designed for optimal data-model integration to enable an improved understanding of Antarctic Ice Sheet (AIS) mass balance during warmer-than-present climates (e.g., the Pleistocene “super interglacials,” the mid-Pliocene, and the Miocene Climatic Optimum). The principal goals of Expedition 374 were to

  • Evaluate the contribution of West Antarctica to far-field ice volume and sea level estimates;
  • Reconstruct ice-proximal oceanic and atmospheric temperatures to quantify past polar amplification;
  • Assess the role of oceanic forcing (e.g., temperature and sea level) on AIS variability;
  • Identify the sensitivity of the AIS to Earth’s orbital configuration under a variety of climate boundary conditions; and
  • Reconstruct Ross Sea paleobathymetry to examine relationships between seafloor geometry, ice sheet variability, and global climate.

To achieve these objectives, postcruise studies will

  • Use data and models to reconcile intervals of maximum Neogene and Quaternary ice advance and retreat with far-field records of eustatic sea level;
  • Reconstruct past changes in oceanic and atmospheric temperatures using a multiproxy approach;
  • Reconstruct Neogene and Quaternary sea ice margin fluctuations and correlate these records to existing inner continental shelf records;
  • Examine relationships among WAIS variability, Earth’s orbital configuration, oceanic temperature and circulation, and atmospheric pCO2; and
  • Constrain the timing of Ross Sea continental shelf overdeepening and assess its impact on Neogene and Quaternary ice dynamics.

Expedition 374 departed from Lyttelton, New Zealand, in January 2018 and returned in March 2018. We recovered 1292.70 m of high-quality core from five sites spanning the early Miocene to late Quaternary. Three sites were cored on the continental shelf (Sites U1521, U1522, and U1523). At Site U1521, we cored a 650 m thick sequence of interbedded diamictite and diatom-rich mudstone penetrating seismic Ross Sea Unconformity 4 (RSU4). The depositional reconstructions of past glacial and open-marine conditions at this site will provide unprecedented insight into environmental change on the Antarctic continental shelf during the late early and middle Miocene. At Site U1522, we cored a discontinuous late Miocene to Pleistocene sequence of glacial and glaciomarine strata from the outer shelf with the primary objective of penetrating and dating RSU3, which is interpreted to reflect the first continental shelf–wide expansion of East and West Antarctic ice streams. Site U1523, located on the outer continental shelf, targeted a sediment drift beneath the westward-flowing Antarctic Slope Current (ASC) to test the hypothesis that changes in ASC vigor regulate ocean heat flux onto the continental shelf and thus ice sheet mass balance.

We also cored two sites on the continental rise and slope. At Site U1524, we recovered a Plio–Pleistocene sedimentary sequence from the levee of the Hillary Canyon, one of the largest conduits of Antarctic Bottom Water from the continental shelf to the abyssal ocean. Site U1524 was designed to penetrate into middle Miocene and older strata, but coring was initially interrupted by drifting sea ice that forced us to abandon coring in Hole U1524A at 399.5 m drilling depth below seafloor (DSF). We moved to a nearby alternate site on the continental slope (Site U1525) to core a single hole designed to complement the record at Site U1524. We returned to Site U1524 after the sea ice cleared and cored Hole U1524C with the rotary core barrel system with the intention of reaching the target depth of 1000 m DSF. However, we were forced to terminate Hole U1524C at 441.9 m DSF because of a mechanical failure with the vessel that resulted in termination of all drilling operations and forced us to return to Lyttelton 16 days earlier than scheduled. The loss of 39% of our operational days significantly impacted our ability to achieve all Expedition 374 objectives. In particular, we were not able to recover continuous middle Miocene sequences from the continental rise designed to complement the discontinuous record from continental shelf Site U1521. The mechanical failure also meant we could not recover cores from proposed Site RSCR-19A, which was targeted to obtain a high-fidelity, continuous record of upper Neogene and Quaternary pelagic/hemipelagic sedimentation. Despite our failure to recover a continental shelf-to-rise Miocene transect, records from Sites U1522, U1524, and U1525 and legacy cores from the Antarctic Geological Drilling Project (ANDRILL) can be integrated to develop a shelf-to-rise Plio–Pleistocene transect.