US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Marine Geology 172 (2001) 91–115


The composition and distribution of ice-rafted glacial erratics in late Quaternary sediments define the major current systems of the Arctic Ocean and identify two distinct continental sources for the erratics. In the southern Amerasia basin up to 70% of the erratics are dolostones and limestones (the Amerasia suite) that originated in the carbonate-rich Paleozoic terranes of the Canadian Arctic Islands. These clasts reached the Arctic Ocean in glaciers and were ice-rafted to the core sites in the clockwise Beaufort Gyre. The concentration of erratics decreases northward by 98% along the trend of the gyre from southeastern Canada basin to Makarov basin. The concentration of erratics then triples across the Makarov basin flank of Lomonosov Ridge and siltstone, sandstone and siliceous clasts become dominant in cores from the ridge and the Eurasia basin (the Eurasia suite). The bedrock source for the siltstone and sandstone clasts is uncertain, but bedrock distribution and the distribution of glaciation in northern Eurasia suggest the Taymyr Peninsula-Kara Sea regions. The pattern of clast distribution in the Arctic Ocean sediments and the sharp northward decrease in concentration of clasts of Canadian Arctic Island provenance in the Amerasia basin support the conclusion that the modern circulation pattern of the Arctic Ocean, with the Beaufort Gyre dominant in the Amerasia basin and the Transpolar drift dominant in the Eurasia basin, has controlled both sea-ice and glacial iceberg drift in the Arctic Ocean during interglacial intervals since at least the late Pleistocene. The abruptness of the change in both clast composition and concentration on the Makarov basin flank of Lomonosov Ridge also suggests that the boundary between the Beaufort Gyre and the Transpolar Drift has been relatively stable during interglacials since that time. Because the Beaufort Gyre is wind-driven our data, in conjunction with the westerly directed orientation of sand dunes that formed during the last glacial maximum on the North Slope of Alaska, suggests that atmospheric circulation in the western Arctic during late Quaternary was similar to that of the present.