Multiple periods of Late Pliocene and Pleistocene high sea level are recorded by surficial deposits along the coastal plains of northwestern Alaska. Analyses of the extent of amino acid epimerization in fossil molluscan shells from the Nome coastal plain of the northern Bering Sea coast, and from the Alaskan Arctic Coastal Plain of the Chukchi and Beaufort Sea coasts, allow recognition of at least five intervals of higher-than-present relative sea level. Three Late Pliocene transgressions are represented at Nome by the complex and protracted Beringian transgression, and on the Arctic Coastal Plain by the Colvillian, Bigbendian, and Fishcreekian transgressions. These were followed by a lengthy period of non-marine deposition during the Early Pleistocene when sea level did not reach above its present position. A Middle Pleistocene high-sea-level event is represented at Nome by the Anvilian transgression, and on the Arctic Coastal Plain by the Wainwrightian transgression. Anvilian deposits at the type locality are considerably younger than previously thought, perhaps as young as Oxygen-Isotope Stage 11 (∼410,000 BP). Finally, the last interglacial Pelukian transgression is represented discontinuously along the shores of northwestern Alaska. Amino acid epimerization data, together with previous paleomagnetic measurements, radiometric-age determinations, and paleontologic evidence provide geochronological constraints on the sequence of marine deposits. They form the basis of regional correlations and offer a means of evaluating the post-depositional thermal history of the high-sea-level deposits. Provisional correlations between marine units at Nome and the Artic Coastal Plain indicate that the temperature difference that separates the two sites today had existed by about 3.0 Ma. Since that time, the effective diagenetic temperature was lowered by about 3-4°C at both sites, and the mean annual temperature was lowered considerably more. This temperature decrease was largely accomplished by the close of the Fishcreekian = Beringian III transgression (ca. 2.5-2.1 Ma). Since then, intervals of warm temperature must have been extremely brief. These data suggest that the steep latitudinal temperature gradient and the frigid temperatures that characterize the high latitudes of Alaska today are ancient features of Arctic climate.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Earth-Surface Processes