Pleistocene stratigraphy, glacial limits and paleoenvironments of White River and Silver Creek, southwest Yukon

Date created: 
Quaternary stratigraphy
Glacial limits

Quaternary glacial and non-glacial sediment exposed at White River and Silver Creek provide a record of environmental change in southwest Yukon for much of the late-Middle to Late Pleistocene. Eighteen sites at White River, located beyond the marine oxygen isotope stage (MIS) 2 glacial limit, contain thick accumulations of till, loess, peat, gravel and glaciolacustrine silt and clay, with tephras, paleosols, plant and insect macrofossils and large mammal fossils. Radiocarbon ages and eleven tephra beds constrain two tills to MIS 4 and 6. These tills correlate to the Gladstone and Reid glaciations and represent the penultimate and maximum all-time limits of the St. Elias lobe of the northern Cordilleran Ice Sheet. Two peat beds located between these tills indicate that interglacial conditions existed in the area during MIS 5e and 5a. Pond sediment deposited during mid-MIS 5 suggests that the sites were covered by an open birch tundra at this time. The MIS 3/2 transition was marked by a treeless, dry steppe-tundra populated by mammoth, horse and bison.The eleven Silver Creek sites, located ~200 km up-ice, contain a similar record of glacial and non-glacial sediment. Infrared-stimulated luminescence (IRSL) and radiocarbon dating constrain the glacial deposits at these sites to MIS 2, 4, either MIS 7 or 6, and to two Early to Middle Pleistocene, Pre-Reid glaciations. Tilting of glaciolacustrine beds of up to 1.9 mm/yr may be from uplift along the Denali fault since MIS 7. Pollen and macrofossils analyses from overlying MIS 3-aged sediment suggest that the environment was dominated by herbs and forbs, with few shrubs and almost no tree pollen at this time. Combined, the White River and Silver Creek sites contain a record of glacial and non-glacial conditions in southwest Yukon since the Middle Pleistocene.The glacial limits in southwest Yukon are markedly different from those in central Yukon. In southwest Yukon, the glacial limits are closely-spaced and were more extensive in the Middle to Late Pleistocene than in the Late Pliocene and Early Pleistocene. In central Yukon, glacial limits are separated by up to 300 km and were most extensive in the latest Pliocene and Early Pleistocene. This suggests that different forcing mechanisms controlled the extents of the St. Elias and Selwyn lobes during successive glaciations. Boundary conditions such as varying substrates, topography, moisture pathways and atmospheric circulation likely had a greater affect than tectonics and sea level on these glacial limits throughout the Plio-Pleistocene.

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Senior supervisor: 
Brent Ward
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.