Variations in clay mineral assemblages have been widely used to understand changes in sediment provenance during glacial and interglacial periods. Smectite clay minerals, however, have a range of various elemental compositions that possibly originated from multiple different sources. Therefore, it might be crucial to distinguish the various types of smectites by analyzing their elemental composition in order to verify the sediment provenances with certainty. This hypothesis was tested for the clay mineral characteristics in a marine sediment core from the southern Drake Passage (GC05-DP02). Rare earth elements and
data had previously indicated that fine grained detritus was supplied from the Weddell Sea to the core site during interglacial periods, when the sediments contained more Al-rich smectite (montmorillonite). Indeed, marine sediments collected close to the Larsen Ice Shelf on the eastern Antarctic Peninsula continental shelf, western Weddell Sea embayment, show more Al-rich smectite components as compared with other possible West Antarctic sources, such as the Ross Sea embayment or King George Island, South Shetland Islands. Furthermore, two types of smectite (Al-rich and Al-poor) were identified in core GC360 from the Bellingshausen Sea shelf, suggesting that during glacial periods some sediment is derived from subglacial erosion of underlying pre-Oligocene sedimentary strata containing predominantly Al-rich montmorillonite. This finding reveals different sources for smectites in sediments deposited at site GC360 during the last glacial period and during the present interglacial that show only minor differences in smectite contents. For the interglacial period, two groups of smectite with a wide range of Al-rich and Mg–Fe-rich were identified, which indicate delivery from two different sources: (1) the detritus with high contents of Mg–Fe-rich smectite supplied from Beethoven Peninsula, southwestern Alexander island and (2) the detritus with higher contents of Al-rich smectite (montmorillonite) possibly derived from the subglacial reworking of pre-Oligocene sedimentary strata. These results demonstrate that the elemental compositions of smectites can be used to differentiate the sources of smectites in marine sediments, which is an important tool to define sediment provenance in detail, when down-core changes observed in clay mineral assemblages are interpreted.
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