This study describes the diatom biostratigraphy of the diatomite interval recovered at ~310 mbsf representative of the geologic time between 15.7-14.5 Ma. This microfossil assemblage provides a unique window into the middle Miocene which is a stratigraphic interval never previously recovered from locations proximal to the Antarctic continent, and considered to be one of the fundamental time intervals in the development of the modern Antarctic ice sheets.
Denticulopsis maccollumii, Denticulopsis lauta, Nitzschia sp. 17 sensu Schrader (1976), Rhizosolenia spp. and Chaetoceros resting spores are among the species observed indicating a productive, open marine setting. This key paleoenvironmental information corroborates the overall results of the ANDRILL SMS multidisciplinary Project, which envision warmer-than-present conditions in the McMurdo Sound region, and the western Ross Sea resembled the modern climate of southwestern New Zealand and southern Alaska, a climatic regime quite different from the cold polar climate of Antarctica today.
This diatom record provides a high resolution portrait of the middle Miocene climatic history of the Antarctic continent and will ultimately provide new data for glacial and climate models to help understand the behavior of the East Antarctic ice sheet in response to the current concern toward global warming.