Microfabric analysis by manual and automated stereological procedures: a methodological approach to Antarctic tillite



Fabric analysis is commonly used to infer former movement directions of diamictons; however, analysis techniques are typically time consuming and partly subjective. Stereological analysis provides an alternative for objective determination of the preferred orientation of particles. The ability of manual and automated stereological procedures to determine the preferred orientation of particles (120–4000 µm) in tillite is assessed, using core samples from Mount Feather, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. Orthogonal sets of vertical thin sections were subjected to directed secant analysis involving the determination of the number of intersections between particle outlines and a rotating series of parallel lines. The manual analysis reveals a weakly developed three-dimensional tilt angle (plunge) of 68°. This reflects the depth-averaged subglacial deformational structure of the deposit. Because the preferred orientation signal is weak, in the automated set-up this signal is obscured by the effect of digitization, hampering the reliable assessment of the orientation direction. The study shows microfabric variability within the studied cored section that is interpreted as a shear fabric. Reliable macrostructural information that might constrain ice flow directions requires a larger number of randomly or systematically drawn core samples from which averaged microstructural fabrics can be derived.