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Heiser, P.A., 1997

Extent, timing, and paleogeographic significance of multiple Pleistocene glaciations in the Bering Strait region

Bibliographic Reference

Heiser, P.A., 1997, Extent, timing, and paleogeographic significance of multiple Pleistocene glaciations in the Bering Strait region: University of Alaska Fairbanks, Ph.D. dissertation, 133 p., illust., maps, 1 plate.


This study utilizes a multidisciplinary approach to the investigation of the extent, timing, and potential effects of repeated Pleistocene glaciation in Bering Strait region. A major focus of this study was directed toward testing the hypothesis that a continental-scale ice sheet existed in Beringia during the Late Wisconsin glacial period. Satellite synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery was used to compile a map of glacial moraines in Chukotka, Russia, and to attempt preliminary correlations with the glacial record in Alaska. Geophysical modeling of the solid-earth response to postulated glacial loading, and the reconstruction of regional snowline were combined with the results of the SAR investigation to test the ice sheet hypothesis. Finally, a detailed study of the Quaternary stratigraphy and surficial geology of St. Lawrence Island was used to correlate the glacial and sea level histories of western Alaska and Chukotka, Russia. The sequences of moraines in Chukotka, mapped from SAR imagery, are similar in morphology and position to moraine sequences described in Alaska, recording a succession of glacial events that most likely began in the middle Pleistocene and ended with the Late Wisconsin. The record of repeated mountain glaciation, characterized by radial flowout of high topographic areas provides strong evidence against the existence of a southward-flowing, continental-scale ice sheet in Beringia at any time in the latter part of the Pleistocene. Geophysical modeling of the solid-earth response to glacial loading predicted relative sea level changes on the scale of meters to tens of meters (rising or falling depending on forebulge effect) around the shores of present-day Bering Strait if a large ice sheet had, indeed, occupied Beringia during Late Wisconsin time. There is no evidence of these predicted sea level changes anywhere in the region. The reconstruction of Late Wisconsin snowlines in Russian and Alaska show that the paleoclimatic conditions needed to 'grow' the hypothesized ice sheet did not exist. Field mapping and stratigraphic work on St. Lawrence Island revealed that ice advanced onto the island twice in the late Pleistocene, once in the Middle Pleistocene and once after the Last Interglacial, probably during the Early Wisconsin. The record of glaciers advancing from Chukotka onto the island provides an important 'Rosetta Stone' for correlating the glacial histories of northeast Siberia and Alaska.

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