Pliocene Marine Transgressions of Northern Alaska: Circumarctic Correlations and Paleoclimatic Interpretations

  • J. Brigham-Grette
  • L.D. Carter
Keywords: Amino acid geochronology, Climatology, Geochemistry, Geological time, Mollusks, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeomagnetism, Palaeontology, Permafrost, Pleistocene epoch, Pliocene epoch, Sea level, Sediments (Geology), Stratigraphy, Alaska, Northern, Baffin Island, Nunavut, Banks Island, N.W.T., Ellesmere Island, Greenland, Kamchatka, Poluostrov, Russian Federation, Meighen Island


At least three marine transgressions of Piliocene age are recorded by littoral to inner-shelf sediments of the Gubik Formation, which mantles the Arctic Coastal Plain of northern Alaska. The three recognized transgressions were eustatic high sea levels that, from oldest to youngest, are informally named the Colvillian, Bigbendian, and Fishcreekian transgressions. The geochronology is based up amino acid geochemistry, paleomagnetic studies, vertebrate and invertebrate paleontology, and strontium isotope age estimates. Pollen, plant macrofossils, and marine vertebrate and inventebrate remains indicate that these transgressions occurred when the Arctic was at least intermittently much warmer than it is now. The Colvillian transgression took place at sometime between 2.48 and 2.7 Ma, when adjacent coastal areas supported an open boreal forest or spruce-birch-woodland with scattered pine and rare fir and hemlock. The Bigbendian transgression occurred about 2.48 Ma. Climate conditions were probably slightly cooler than during the Colvillian transgression, but probably too warm for permafrost and too warm for even seasonal sea ice in the region. Nearby vegetation was open spruce-birch woodland or parkland, possibly with rare scattered pine. The Fishcreekian transgression took place sometime between 2.14 and 2.48 Ma and was also characterized by warm marine conditions without sea ice. During the waning stages of this transgression, however, terrestrial conditions were relatively cool, and coastal vegetation was herbaceous tundra with scattered larch trees in the vicinity. Other marine units from this time period occur around the Arctic Basin. The three oldest transgressions recognized from the Seward Peninsula may be broadly correlated with the three Piliocene transgresions of the Arctic Coastal Plain. The Tusatuvayam beds in Kamchatka possibly correlate with one of the two younger transgressions of northern Alaska. The non-marine Worth Point Formation of Banks Island may be younger than all three of the transgressions of the Arctic Coastal Plain, and marine sediment of the Beaufort Formation on Meighen Island is slightly older than the Colvillian transgression. None of the Piliocene marine units on Baffin Island can be confidently correlated with the high sea level events of northern Alaska. The upper Kap Kobenhavn Formation and the upper Loden Elv Formation of Greenland most likely correlate with the Fishcreekian transgression.

Key words: Arctic, amino acids, Pliocene, Pleistocene, paleoclimate, marine transgressions, sea level, Alaska, Gubik Formation