A 26 million year gap in the central Arctic record at the greenhouse-icehouse transition: Looking for clues



[1] The Cenozoic record of the Lomonosov Ridge (central Arctic Ocean) recovered during Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) Expedition 302 revealed an unexpected 26 Ma hiatus, separating middle Eocene (∼44.4 Ma) from lower Miocene sediments (∼18.2 Ma). To elucidate the nature of this unconformity, we performed a multiproxy palynological (dinoflagellate cysts, pollen, and spores), micropaleontological (siliceous microfossils), inorganic, and organic (Tetra Ether Index of lipids with 86 carbon atoms (TEX86) and Branched and Isoprenoid Tetraether (BIT)) geochemical analysis of the sediments from ∼5 m below to ∼7 m above the hiatus. Four main paleoenvironmental phases (A–D) are recognized in the sediments encompassing the unconformity, two below (A–B) and two above (C–D): (A) Below the hiatus, proxies show relatively warm temperatures, with Sea Surface Temperatures (TEX86-derived SSTs) of about 8°C and high fresh to brackish water influence. (B) Approaching the hiatus, proxies indicate a cooling trend (TEX86-derived SSTs of ∼5°C), increased freshwater influence, and progressive shoaling of the Lomonosov Ridge drilling site, located close to or at sea level. (C) The interval directly above the unconformity contains sparse reworked Cretaceous to Oligocene dinoflagellate cysts. Sediments were deposited in a relatively shallow, restricted marine environment. Proxies show the simultaneous influence of both fresh and marine waters, with alternating oxic and anoxic conditions. Pollen indicates a relatively cold climate. Intriguingly, TEX86-derived SSTs are unexpectedly high, ∼15–19°C. Such warm surface waters may be partially explained by the ingression of warmer North Atlantic waters after the opening of the Fram Strait during the early Miocene. (D) Sediments of the uppermost interval indicate a phase of extreme oxic conditions, and a well-ventilated environment, which occurred after the complete opening of the Fram Strait. Importantly, and in contrast with classical postrifting thermal subsidence models for passive margins, our data suggest that sediment erosion and/or nondeposition that generated the hiatus was likely due to a progressive shoaling of the Lomonosov Ridge. A shallow water setting both before and after the hiatus suggests that the Lomonosov Ridge remained at or near sea level for the duration of the gap in the sedimentary record. Interacting sea level changes and/or tectonic activity (possibly uplift) must be invoked as possible causes for such a long hiatus.