5. Site 11701

Shipboard Scientific Party2


Site 1170 is located in deep water (2704 m) on the flat western part of the South Tasman Rise (STR), 400 km south of Tasmania and 40 km east of Site 1169. It is 10 km west of a fault scarp, ~500 m high and trending north-south, that separates the lower western and higher central blocks of the STR. The site lies within present-day northern subantarctic surface waters, ~150 km south of the Subtropical Front and well north of the Subantarctic Front. The primary objectives of Site 1170 were to core and log (1) an Eocene detrital section deposited during early rifting between the STR and Antarctica to ascertain marine paleoenvironmental conditions before and leading into the initial marine connection that developed between the southern Indian and Pacific Oceans as the Tasmanian gateway opened during the mid-Paleogene, (2) an Oligocene to Holocene pelagic carbonate sequence to document the paleoceanographic and paleoclimatic responses to the opening of the Tasmanian gateway and subsequent expansion of the Southern Ocean, and (3) an upper Neogene sequence to construct a high-resolution subantarctic biostratigraphy and a high-resolution record of paleoclimatic change.

Plate tectonic reconstructions show the site as being in the broad northwest-southeast Tasmanian-Antarctic Shear Zone during the Cretaceous and moving south with Antarctica until the latest Cretaceous, when it became welded to the remainder of the STR as part of the Australian plate. From the earliest Paleogene, the site was close to the active rift. A shallow sea associated with Paleogene rifting and east-west spreading between Australia and Antarctica placed the site in the far southeastern corner of the restricted Australo-Antarctic Gulf, on the Indian Ocean side of the Tasmanian land bridge. The ridge of the Tasman Fracture Zone (TFZ), 80 km west of the site, formed soon after fast spreading began in the middle Eocene and must have provided east-flowing debris. Marine magnetic lineations show that in the late Oligocene (26-27 Ma) the east-west spreading axis was just west of the TFZ at Chron 8. The passing of the axis probably caused nearby uplift followed by subsidence.

Seismic profiles and regional correlations suggest that the site was subject to steady deposition of prograded siliciclastic deltaic sediments from the Cretaceous into the Eocene, and hemipelagic sedimentation grading to pelagic sedimentation thereafter (Fig. F1). Much of the Cenozoic siliciclastic detritus must have come from the higher central block 10 km to the east, believed to consist largely of continental basement and Cretaceous to Eocene sedimentary rocks. Parts of the central block, which was initially the Tasmanian land bridge, may have remained subaerial and, hence, a source of siliciclastic sediments well into the Oligocene. Seismic profiles suggest that there was a period of current erosion against the fault scarp of the central block, probably during the Miocene. A wedge of sediments was deposited in the depression.

At Site 1170 we cored one advanced hydraulic piston corer/extended core barrel (APC/XCB) hole, two more with the APC, and a rotary-cored hole (Table T2 in the "Leg 189 Summary" chapter). Because suboptimal weather conditions affected the APC coring, construction of a composite section of the triple-cored portion of the sedimentary sequence was possible only to 70 m below seafloor (mbsf) (early late Pliocene). Beyond that, there are limited gaps, but overall core recovery averaged 90.4%. Hole 1170A reached 464.3 mbsf with 81.8% recovery. Hole 1170B was APC cored to 175.8 mbsf with 102.2% recovery, and Hole 1170C reached 180.1 mbsf with 99.7% recovery. Hole 1170D was rotary cored from 425 to 779.8 mbsf with 81.1% recovery. Wireline logging was conducted over ~540-770 mbsf in Hole 1170D with the triple-combination (triple combo) tool string, the geological high-sensitivity magnetic (GHMT)-sonic tool string, and the Formation MicroScanner (FMS)-sonic tool. Logging was terminated when the drill pipe became stuck in the hole, and the bottom-hole assembly (BHA) had to be severed with explosives.

Site 1170, with a total sediment thickness of 780 m, ranges in age from the middle Eocene (43 Ma) to the Quaternary. The older sequence consists broadly of ~282 m of rapidly deposited shallow-water silty claystones of middle and late Eocene age (lithostratigraphic Unit V, see below), overlain by 25 m of shallow-water glauconite-rich clayey siltstone deposited slowly during the latest Eocene to earliest Oligocene (Unit IV). Unit IV is overlain by 472 m of slowly deposited deep-water pelagic nannofossil chalk and ooze of early Oligocene through Quaternary age (Units III-I); limestone and siliceous limestone beds are low in the Oligocene section. There is a hiatus of ~4 m.y. in the mid-Oligocene between Units IV and III. The Neogene is almost completely continuous except for a hiatus of ~4 m.y. in the upper Miocene.

The lithostratigraphic sequence has been divided into five units and a number of subunits.

Lithostratigraphic Unit I (0-93 mbsf), of early Pliocene to Pleistocene age, is a nannofossil ooze with abundant siliceous microfossils. It is generally white with some darker laminations and bioturbation. Carbonate content averages 80 wt%, and organic carbon content is <1 wt%. Average sedimentation rates are low. Deposition was in an open, well-oxygenated ocean in lower bathyal water depths. The considerable kaolinite in the clay fraction may be ancient material derived by increased wind erosion from a more arid Australia.

Lithostratigraphic Unit II (93-373 mbsf) of early Miocene to early Pliocene age has three subunits: Subunit IIA to 181 mbsf, Subunit IIB to 290 mbsf, and Subunit IIC to 373 mbsf. The unit generally consists of white nannofossil ooze or chalk, with more calcium carbonate (average 95 wt%) than Unit I. Organic carbon content is generally very low (<0.5 wt%) between 220 and 270 mbsf. Average sedimentation rates are low. Deposition was in lower bathyal water depths in open-ocean conditions.

Subunit IIA is late early Pliocene to late middle Miocene in age. It is uniform white nannofossil ooze with laminations that are light bluish to greenish gray. Subunit IIB is an upper to lower middle Miocene white nannofossil ooze that lacks laminations. Subunit IIC is white nannofossil ooze to chalk, with some laminations that are light bluish to greenish gray. The presence of quartz grains in the lower middle Miocene supports the evidence from the seismic profiles of a period of increased current activity and scouring (removing all the Oligocene) against the scarp 10 km to the east.

Lithostratigraphic Unit III (373-472 mbsf) is a light greenish gray nannofossil chalk of early Miocene to earliest Oligocene age. The lower part of the unit (below 446.6 mbsf), which is more clay rich, also contains pale gray clay-bearing limestone with evidence of pressure solution and thin, hard siliceous limestone layers. Calcium carbonate percentages are lower (78 to 93 wt%) than in Unit II. Both calcareous (foraminifers and nannofossils) and siliceous (diatoms and radiolarians) microfossils are abundant throughout the unit. Organic carbon content is very low, except in the lower part where it reaches ~0.5 wt%. Sedimentation rates are moderate. Paleoenvironmental indicators suggest increasing water depths and more oxygenation from outermost shelf or upper bathyal depths in the lower part of the unit to perhaps lower bathyal depths in the upper part. Although the contact between the limestone and underlying siltstone is very sharp, the sediment character in the lowermost part of the limestone suggests a continued shallow-water influence.

Lithostratigraphic Unit IV (472-497 mbsf) is a dark greenish gray, glauconitic-rich, sandy to clayey siltstone of earliest Oligocene to latest Eocene age. Crystalline quartz, diatoms, and glauconite are very abundant in the upper part of the unit but decrease downward as it becomes more clayey. About 1.5 m below the top of the unit, there is a break between sandier and harder sediments above and muddier sediments below. Calcium carbonate content is very low (5 wt% average, but as much as 10 wt%) and calcareous fossils are rare, whereas organic carbon content increases to <1 wt%. Carbonaceous fragments and bioturbation are ubiquitous. Sedimentation rates are low. Abundant palynomorphs (dinocysts, spores, and pollen) suggest a cool climate, and temperate forest was on the adjacent land. The clay minerals (illite/smectite) tend to support the evidence of a cool climate. The lithologic transition to the underlying sequence is gradational.

Lithostratigraphic Unit V (497-779.8 mbsf) is a bioturbated, dark gray, glauconite-bearing silty claystone to clayey siltstone of late to middle Eocene age that has two subdivisions: Subunit VA to 534.9 mbsf and Subunit VB to 780 mbsf (total depth). Calcium carbonate content is low (<5 wt% on average) and calcareous microfossils are rare. Organic carbon exhibits a steady downward increase from ~0.5 wt% in the upper part of Unit V to <3.5 wt% toward the base. Sedimentation rates are high. Palynolomorphs and clay minerals (mainly smectite) both suggest that conditions were warm, and rainforests cloaked the nearby land. Dinocysts are present in massive concentrations.

Subunit VA is late Eocene in age. It consists of clayey quartzose siltstone with glauconite-rich intervals and some carbonate. Subunit VB is an upper middle Eocene silty claystone. Some horizons contain abundant small (1 mm diameter) white siliceous tubes. There are occasional occurrences of volcanic glass, solitary corals, bivalves, and pyrite nodules. There are also some decimeter-thick beds of grayish or brownish limestone in the lower part.

From a generalized biostratigraphic perspective, calcareous nannofossils at Site 1170 are abundant except in the lowermost Oligocene and the Eocene. Planktonic foraminifers and diatoms are abundant down to the middle Miocene but generally decline in older sediments. Benthic foraminifers are present, except in the upper Eocene, and suggest that water depths were 50-100 m during the middle and late Eocene and deepened rapidly during the early Oligocene. Dinoflagellate cysts are common down to the upper Pliocene, are abundant in the lowermost Oligocene and upper Eocene strata, and reach massive concentrations in the Eocene. In the middle Eocene, dinoflagellate cysts, diatoms, and nannoplankton show intriguing cycles thought to be related to variations in nutrient levels (degree of eutrophication), perhaps related to fluctuations in sea level and/or ventilation. Calcareous nannofossils suggest the possibility of two long hiatuses, one in Unit IV (Eocene/Oligocene boundary) and the other in Subunit VB (middle/late Eocene boundary). However, the existence of such hiatuses is refuted by sedimentologic and paleontologic (palynomorphs + diatoms) information.

Sedimentation rates determined from the fossil record were rapid (10 cm/k.y.) during the early rifting phase of the middle Eocene, followed by slow sedimentation and condensed sequences during the late Eocene, slow sedimentation during the early Oligocene (1 cm/k.y.), moderate sedimentation for a brief period during the late early Oligocene (5 cm/k.y.), slow sedimentation from the mid-Oligocene to the early middle Miocene (1 cm/k.y.), rapid sedimentation during the late middle Miocene (4 cm/k.y.), and slow sedimentation to the present day (2 cm/k.y.). Intervals of minimal sedimentation or erosion mark the late Oligocene and late Miocene sequences.

The geochemistry data show a very sharp change at the base of the carbonates at the Eocene/Oligocene boundary. This sharp change is associated with a diffusion barrier for pore waters and dissolved gases (e.g., methane is abundant below the barrier but absent above). Organic carbon below the barrier averages 0.5 wt% and is dominantly marine in origin. However organic carbon peaks up to 2 wt% in the lower part of the Eocene and appears to have been caused by increased nonmarine input. A variety of evidence suggests that, despite an only slightly higher than normal present-day thermal gradient, the organic matter is nearing thermal maturity. Gases deep in the hole may have been produced thermogenically, and bitumen traces appear to be present. As at Site 1168, pore waters become fresher with depth. Determination of the source of the fresher (low Cl-) waters awaits further work.

The wireline logs covered only Subunit VB in the bottom of Hole 1170D because of hole stability problems. However, they show a very clear cyclicity of 4.1 m in the Th log, which awaits more paleontologic control before it can be converted into a time series. Magnetostratigraphy provided better results than at Site 1168, but these were convincing only in the Pliocene-Pleistocene, the middle and upper lower Miocene, and the uppermost Oligocene intervals.

The sedimentary succession of Site 1170 records three major phases of paleoenvironmental development:

  1. Middle to early late Eocene rapid deposition of shallow-water siliciclastic sediments during rifting between Antarctica and the STR, a time of minimal or no connection between the southern Indian and Pacific Oceans.
  2. A transitional interval of slow sedimentation, with shallow-water upper Eocene glauconitic siliciclastic sediments giving way suddenly to lowermost Oligocene clayey biogenic carbonates, representing the activation of bottom currents as the Tasmanian Gateway opened and deepened during early drifting.
  3. Oligocene through Quaternary deposition of biogenic carbonate sediments in increasingly deep waters and in increasingly open-ocean conditions, as the Southern Ocean developed and expanded with the northward flight of the STR and the Australian continent. The sedimentary sequence, in conjunction with information from earlier Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) results, seems to record an integrated history of interplay between decreasing continental influence, rifting and subsidence of the rise, antarctic cooling, Antarctic Circumpolar Current development, and other related factors.

A question being addressed by this and the other nearby sites is why there was such a sharp change from siliciclastic to carbonate sedimentation at the Eocene/Oligocene boundary. A very broad, shallow Australian-Antarctic shelf had been supplied with siliciclastic sediment for tens of millions of years, and, even though rifting, subsidence, and compaction had begun early in the Cretaceous, sedimentation kept up, and shallow-marine sediments were deposited. In the Tasmanian-STR area there was also subsidence related to the Late Cretaceous opening of the Tasman Sea. Rifting between Australia and Antarctica gave way to almost complete separation of the continents and fast spreading during the middle Eocene (43 Ma). This separation could be expected to increase the rate of subsidence, after a time lag, as the thermal anomaly under the margin dissipated. At Site 1170, siliciclastic sedimentation kept up until the Eocene/Oligocene boundary (33 Ma), some 10 m.y. after the onset of fast spreading, even though the local sedimentation rate had declined in the late Eocene. A variety of information suggests that the ridge of the TFZ formed during the middle Eocene fast spreading and was probably a major source of clayey detritus until the late Eocene. Then, the climate changed quickly, the supply of siliciclastics dropped off, slow deposition of pelagic carbonate was established, and the sea deepened rapidly. The most likely explanation is that climatic cooling led to greatly reduced rainfall, weathering, and erosion, and hence to greatly reduced siliciclastic supply. Such changes, from siliciclastic to biogenic sedimentation, appear to be apparent and synchronous wherever ODP drilling has taken place on the Antarctic margin.

In summary, the Eocene siliciclastic sedimentary interval contains a remarkable sequence of abundant organic dinocysts, pollen, and spores in addition to sufficiently persistent calcareous microfossils to assist with age control. The microfossils will provide an integrated record of terrestrial and shallow-marine paleoclimatic history of the antarctic continental margin in the middle Eocene through early Oligocene. The Oligocene pelagic biogenic sediments provide a sequence of calcareous and siliceous microfossils for integrated studies of the early development of the Southern Ocean, as the STR both subsided and migrated toward the north. The younger Neogene succession generally contains a sequence of calcareous and siliceous microfossils that are abundant and well preserved throughout and will provide excellent paleoceanographic records.

1Examples of how to reference the whole or part of this volume can be found under "Citations" in the preliminary pages of the volume.
2Shipboard Scientific Party addresses can be found under "Shipboard Scientific Party" in the preliminary pages of the volume.

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