This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under 9906702. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
L Y N   G U A L T I E R I ' S   R E S E A R C H      W R A N G E L   I S L A N D
The Late Pleistocene Glacial and Sea Level History of Wrangel Island, Northeast Siberia
The Tundra Academia, northern Wrangel Island.
Site of the best sauna on Wrangel Island. Mt. Tundrovaya is in the background.
Principal Investigators
Dr. Lyn Gualtieri, Quaternary Research Center, University of Washington
Sergey Vartanyan, Wrangel Island State Reserve
Dr. Patricia Anderson, Quaternary Research Center, University of Washington
Dr. Julie Brigham-Grette, Department of Geosciences, University of Massachusetts
Lyn, Sergey and Julie in the upper Klark valley
The National Science Foundation/Arctic System Science Program
Russian-American Initiative on Shelf Environments (RAISE)
Why Wrangel Island?
The late Pleistocene record preserved on Wrangel Island provides evidence to test whether an East Siberian Ice Sheet (ESIS) existed during the LGM. There are multiple geologic implications for testing this hypothesis. Data taken from this work will be used to infer past and future climate evolution, the paleogeography of Beringia, sea level, and crust/mantle responses to changes in ice extent. Wrangel Island is the focus of this research because it would have been affected both directly and indirectly by a regional ice sheet; or it may have only been host to small valley glaciers.
Project Summary
One of the critical pieces missing from the analysis of the last glacial maximum (LGM) is the extent and configuration of the Arctic ice sheets. In addition to their importance in the physical elements of the earth’s system, the extent and chronology of glaciation in the Arctic has played a significant role in shaping the modern distribution and composition of modern high latitude flora and fauna. Of all Northern Hemisphere ice sheets, perhaps none has been more controversial than that proposed to cover the East Siberia Sea. A marine-based ESIS has been suggested by some workers and used in climate models; however, there has been little investigation of the glacial geology along the proposed ice sheet’s eastern margin: Wrangel Island. It would greatly improve our understanding of differences in ice extent between western and eastern Arctic Russia to know if the East Siberian Sea (913,000 sq. mi.) was either covered by sea ice, permafrost, or a 1500 m thick marine-based ice sheet during the LGM.
We are studying the glacial history of Wrangel Island, the area which would be most affected by an ice sheet in the East Siberian Sea, in order to provide the first field evidence to test whether an ice sheet covered Wrangel Island during the LGM or earlier, or Wrangel Island was uncovered, but lay in the peripheral depression of an ESIS. These alternatives are being explored by providing the first radiometric sea level and glacial chronology for Wrangel Island using radiocarbon, GC amino acid, 10Be, 26Al and 36Cl cosmogenic isotope dating. Samples were also taken for palynological analysis in order to assess differences in glacial or interglacial vegetation through the late Quaternary. The main geographic focus of the study is the northern coastal plain (2000) and the interior mountains and river valleys (2001).
Wrangel Island provides an unprecedented opportunity to link and compare a potentially long (400 ka) terrestrial record with marine records from the North Pacific the North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean. The proposed research serves as a significant contribution to a growing database of LGM paleoenvironmental studies in the central and western Russian Arctic as well as in northeastern Siberia. This research not only fulfills the RAISE and ARCSS goals, but also research objectives outlined by other international programs such as QUEEN, PAGES, and CAPE.
The Field Plan
The purpose of the 2000 field season was to map the raised marine deposits on the southwestern and northern coastal plains and collect suitable material for establishing a Pleistocene sea level history. If Wrangel Island was either covered by or lay in the peripheral depression of an ESIS during the LGM, evidence for the ice sheet’s unloading should be preserved in raised beaches and marine deposits. If Wrangel Island has not been covered by an extensive ice sheet, marine deposits recording higher than present eustatic sea levels (like those on the Alaskan Arctic Coastal Plain) should be preserved in the marine stratigraphy and will be dated by amino acid geochronology. Multiple sea level transgressions ranging in age from the late Pliocene to the mid to late Pleistocene are preserved on the Alaskan Arctic Coastal Plain, outer Chukotka Peninsula and Seward Peninsula The aminostratigraphy of the marine deposits suggests at least six periods of high sea level events This regional high sea level history of Beringia provides a database by which the Wrangel Island sea level history can be compared.
The purpose of the 2001 field season was to map the glacial geology of the major valleys of the central mountain range and establish a numerical chronology of glaciation, with emphasis on determining the age and extent of glaciation during the LGM. We sampled tors and other bedrock outcrops in the central mountains for cosmogenic isotope analysis. We also visited the Krasny Flag, Nashok and lower Tundrovaya River valleys to investigate the marine sediment.
Publications resulting from this research
Gualtieri, L., Vartanyan, S., Brigham-Grette, J., and Anderson, P. 2003. Pleistocene raised marine deposits on Wrangel Island, northeast Siberia and Implications for the Presence of an East Siberian Ice Sheet. Quaternary Research 59 (3): 399-410.
Gualtieri, L., Vartanyan, S., Anderson, P. and Brigham-Grette, J. 2002. Limited Ice in northern Beringia during the Last Glacial Maximum. AMQUA Meeting. Anchorage, Alaska.
Gualtieri, L., Vartanyan, S., Anderson, P. and Brigham-Grette, J. 2002. The Glacial and Sea Level History of Wrangel Island, NE Siberia. ARCSS All-Hands Meeting. February 20. Seattle, WA.
Gualtieri, L., Vartanyan, S., Brigham-Grette, J. and Anderson, P. 2001. Tors, Eustatic Shorelines, and Mammoths: Evidence Against Ice Sheets on Wrangel Island, East Siberian & Chukchi Seas. American Geophysical Union, Program and Abstracts 2001. December 11. San Francisco, CA.
Gualtieri, L., Anderson, P., Brigham-Grette, J. and Vartanyan, S. 2001. Did Ice Exist on the Chukchi Shelf During the Last Glacial Maximum? Geological Society of America, Program and Abstracts 2001. November 8. Boston, MA.
Gualtieri, L., Vartanyan, S., Anderson, P. and Brigham-Grette, J. 2001. The (Non)-Glacial and Sea Level History of Wrangel Island, Northeast Siberia. 31st International Arctic Workshop, Program and Abstracts, 2001. Department of Geosciences, University of Massachusetts, pp. 44-45.
Our latest adventure: the 2001 field season
The People
"Field assistant" Dr. Julie Brigham-Grette (University of Massachusetts) collecting samples for micropaleontological analysis, grainsize and DRM paleomagnetism in the Krasny Flag river valley on one of the colder days this summer
After a hard day of work Julie sits down in the cabin to a hearty meal of reindeer meat
Despite Julie's vast arctic field experiences she had never eaten reindeer meat. A few days after her first reindeer meal she found herself taking castor oil to help digest
The Landscape
An example of a tor sampled for exposure age dating. Was this tor ever over-run by ice?
A bedrock ridge in the Mammontovaya valley-also sampled for cosmogenic isotope dating.
And of course we found a few mammoth tusks lying around...
Julie rests on the side of the "border guard hut" in Ushakovskoye
Meet the people and the landscape that were part of the 2000 field season
The People
Lyn stands amongst the ever-present fog on the Tundra Academia
Sergey on the shore of Jack London Lake
Field assistant Trent Hayden (University of Massachusetts) contemplates a blockfield of frost-shattered slate
Juha Karhu of the University of Helsinki examines the preservation of a mammoth tusk
The Landscape
Collecting shells from marine sediment for gas chromatography amino acid analysis
Sampling site for 10Be and 26Al cosmogenic isotope analysis
The west coast of Wrangel Island just north of Cape Blossom
The south coast of Wrangel Island
Flat-topped mountains
Low hills in the Kamnicharki River valley
A terrace in the upper Tundrovaya River valley
An exposure of marine sediment on the Tundra Academia
Literature related to Wrangel Island
Lozhkin, A.V., Anderson, P.M., Vartanyan, S.L., Brown, T.A., Belaya, B.V. and Kotov, A.N. 2001. Late Quaternary paleoenvironments and modern pollen data from Wrangel Island (Northern Chukotka). Quaternary Science Reviews 20: 217-233.
Karhu, J.A., Tschudi, S., Saarnisto, M., Kubik, P.W., Schlüchter, C. 2001. Constraints for the latest glacial advance on Wrangel Island, Arctic Ocean, from rock surface exposure dating. Global and Planetary Change 31:447-451.
Kos’ko, M.K., Cecile, M.P., Harrison, J.C., Ganelin, V.G., Khandoshko, N.V. and Lopatin, B.G. 1993. Geology of Wrangel Island, between Chukchi and East Siberian Seas, northeasten Russia. Geological Survey of Canada Bulletin 461. Natural Resources Canada.
Oganesyan, A. Sh. and Susekova, N.G. 1994. Cryohydromorphic Nongley Soils of Wrangel Island. Eurasian Soil Science 26 (1): 17-25. Translated from Pochvovedeniye 1993. 25 (12):5-10.
Oganesyan, A. Sh., Prokhorova, T.P., Trumpe, M.A. and Susekova, N.G. 1994. Paleosoils and Peat Bogs of Wrangel Island. Eurasian Soil Science 26 (1): 1-18. Translated from Pochvovedeniye 1993. 25 (2):15-28.
Svatkov, N.M. 1962. The Number of Glaciations on Wrangel Island in the Anthropogene and Last Glaciation. Issledovaniia Lednikov I Lednikovykh Raionov pp: 86-111.
Tikhonov, A., Vartanyan, S. and Joger, U. 1999. Woolly rhinocerous (Coelodonta antiquitatis) from Wrangel Island. Kaupia 9: 187-192.
Vartanyan, S.L., Garutt, V.E., and Sher, A.V. 1993. Holocene dwarf mammoths from Wrangel Island in the Siberian Arctic. Nature 362: 337-340.
Quaternary Research Center, University of Washington
Beringian Research at University of Massachusetts
Paleoenvironmental Atlas of Beringia
The American Museum of Natural History Wrangel Island Mammoth Project
Beringian Interpretative Centre
Want to come to Wrangel Island?
So, you’re asking yourself how you can experience Wrangel Island. Right now it is a difficult place to get to, as it lies within the Russian border zone, but with the necessary permits and licenses you too can straddle the International Date Line and brave the short summer on Siberia’s easternmost arctic island, located 500 km north of the Arctic Circle.
There are presently two tourist groups that travel to Wrangel Island.
One way to get there is aboard a fully classed icebreaker, the Kapitan Dranitsyn.
Another way is with Wintergreen Expeditions.
If you fly from Pevek on the Siberian mainland you will probably first have lunch at the Arktika Restaurant
Or you may opt for a game of basketball
on the city’s colorful court overlooking the East Siberian Sea. Transport from Pevek is provided aboard an Aeroflot MI-8 helicopter like this one which can carry 7.5 tons of gear, fuel, one all-terrain-vehicle and 12 people.
Here is what you can expect when you fly from the Pevek airport (shown below)
and across Long Strait (lots of sea ice in July)
You will most likely arrive in Ushakovskye, the only permanent settlement on the island.
Transport around the island is mostly by foot,
or ATV (note the mammoth tusk on the back of the ATV)
You can either stay in tents
or in one of the 25 cabins
located on the island. If you forget to pack enough meat for the journey, you may end up eating reindeer
but you may have to prepare it yourself
It’s pretty cold on Wrangel Island, and there aren’t too many good swimming holes, so you might be bathing in a makeshift sauna like this one:
If you need to phone home there is one satellite phone on Wrangel Island, located here:
The price for one minute of calling is $4.50. While you’re walking along the tundra you may see a mammoth tusk in a river bed.
In any case, you should dress warmly and be prepared for snow in July.
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