Benthic foraminifers, isotopes and varimax factors at DSDP Holes 72-517 and 72-518

Pliocene changes in the vertical water mass structure of the western South Atlantic are inferred from changes in benthic foraminiferal assemblages and stable isotopes from DSDP Holes 516A, 517, and 518. Factor analysis of 34 samples from Site 518 reveals three distinct benthic foraminiferal assemblages that have been associated with specific subsurface water masses in the modern ocean. These include a Nuttalides umbonifera assemblage (Factor 1) associated with Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW), a Globocassidulina subglobosa-Uvigerina peregrina assemblage (Factor 2) associated with Circumpolar Deep Water (CPDW), and an Oridorsalis umbonatus-Epistominella exigua assemblage associated with North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW). Bathymetric gradients in d13C between Holes 516A (1313 m), 517 (2963 m), and 518 (3944 m) are calculated whenever possible to monitor the degree of similarity and/or difference in the apparent oxygen utilization (AOU) of water masses located at these depths during the Pliocene. Changes in bathymetric d13C gradients coupled with benthic foraminiferal assemblages record fundamental changes in the vertical water mass structure of the Vema Channel during the Pliocene from 4.1 to 2.7 Ma. At Site 518, the interval from 4.1 to 3.6 Ma is dominated by the N. umbonifera (Factor 1) and O. umbonatus-E. exigua (Factor 3) assemblages. The d13C gradient between Holes 518 (3944 m) and 516A (1313 m) undergoes rapid oscillations during this interval though no permanent increase in the gradient is observed. However, d13C values at Site 518 are clearly lighter during this interval. These conditions may be related to increased bottom water activity associated with the re-establishment of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet in the late Gilbert Chron (-4.2 to 3.6 Ma) (Osborn et al., 1982). The interval from 3.6 to 3.2 Ma is marked by a dominance of the G. subglobosa-U. peregrina (Factor 2) assemblage and lack of a strong d13C gradient between Holes 518 (3944 m) and 516A (1313 m). We suggest that shallow circumpolar waters expanded to depths of a least 3944 m (Site 518) during this time. The most profound faunal and isotopic change occurs at 3.2 Ma, and is marked by dominance of the N. umbonifera (Factor 1) and O. umbonatus-E. exigua (Factor 3) assemblages, a 1.1 per mil enrichment in d18O, and a large negative increase in the d13C gradient between Holes 518 and 516A. These changes at Site 518 record the vertical displacement of circumpolar waters by AABW and NADW. This change in vertical water mass structure at 3.2 Ma was probably related to a global cooling event and/or final closure of the Central American seaway. A comparison of the present-day d13C structure of the Vema Channel with a reconstruction between 3.2 and 2.7 Ma indicates that circulation patterns during this late Pliocene interval were similar to those of the modern western South Atlantic.

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