Upper slope processes and seafloor ecosystems on the Sabrina continental slope, East Antarctica

A. L. Post*, P. E. O'Brien, S. Edwards, A. G. Carroll, K. Malakoff, L. K. Armand

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    14 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    This study applies detailed seafloor bathymetry data and seafloor images to understand upper slope features and how these influence the distribution of seafloor biota on the East Antarctic margin. The East Antarctic slope on the Sabrina margin has been shaped by diverse processes related to repeated glaciation. Differences in the morphology of gullies on the upper slope enable an understanding of the likely processes that have been active on this margin. Gully morphology varies according to changes in slope gradient, which may have driven variations in sedimentation. Areas of lower slope angles may have led to rapid sediment deposition during glacial expansion to the shelf edge, and subsequent sediment failure. Typically, gullies in these areas are U-shaped, initiate well below the shelf break, are relatively straight and long, and have low incision depths, consistent with formation due to mass wastage. Areas of higher slope angles likely experienced enhanced flow of erosive turbidity currents during glaciations associated with the release of sediment-laden basal meltwaters. Sediment-laden subglacial meltwater flows typically create gullies such as those we observe that initiate at, or near, the shelf break; are V-shaped in profile; and have high sinuosity, deep incision depths and a relatively short downslope extent. The short downslope extent reflects a reduced sediment load associated with increased seawater entrainment as the slope becomes more concave in profile. These differences in gully morphology have important habitat implications associated with differences in the composition and beta-diversity of the seafloor communities. This upper slope region also supports seafloor communities that are distinct from those on the adjacent shelf, highlighting the uniqueness of this environment for biodiversity. Conservation strategies therefore need to consider slope and shelf communities as distinct and equally important components of the Antarctic ecosystem.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number106091
    Pages (from-to)1-16
    Number of pages16
    JournalMarine Geology
    Volume422
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020

    Keywords

    • Continental margin morphology
    • Southern Ocean
    • Multibeam bathymetry
    • Benthic biota
    • Biodiversity

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