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Modelling the bathymetry of the Antarctic continental shelf

December 31, 1993

Continental shelves are typically covered by relatively shallow waters (<200 m) which deepen gradually from the coast to the shelf edge. The continental shelf around Antarctica is deeper than normal (400-700m) and is characterized in many areas by a nearshore trough (up to 1 km deep) that gradually shallows toward the shelf edge. We examine the cause for the unusual shelf bathymetry of Antarctica by 2-D numerical models that simulate the bathymetry along seismic line ODP-119 in Prydz Bay. Line ODP-119 was chosen because it is tied to to 5 ODP boreholes, and because the margin underwent little recent tectonic activity or changes in the glacial drainage pattern. The numerical models incorporate several factors that are likely to influence the bathymetry, such as the load of the ice cap, the isostatic response of the lithosphere, thermal and tectnoic subsidence of the margin, sea level changes, and the patterns of erosion and sedimentation across the margin. The models show that the observed bathymetry can be produced almost entirely by the sum of the outer-shelf sediment loading and inner-shelf unloading and by the load of the slope sediments. A simple statistical mdoel demonstrates that this distribution pattern of erosion and deposition can be generated by multiple cycles of ice sheet advances across the shelf, whereby in each cycle a thin (a few tens of meters) uniform layer of sediments is eroded from under the ice sheet and is redeposited seaward of the grounding line.