Neoichnology of an Arctic fluvial point bar, North Slope, Alaska (USA)

Anthony J. Martin


This study is the first to describe the neoichnology of an Arctic fluvial point bar (Colville River, Alaska, USA) and examine the sedimentological effects of tracemakers in this sedimentary setting. Seasonal extremes in discharge and sediment deposition in this system result in sandwaves, current ripples, gravel bars and mud veneers, with the latter forming extensive mudcracks. Organismal traces are abundantly represented in sandy mudflats on the downstream portion of the point bar and are characterized by: (1) abundant shallow horizontal invertebrate burrows and surface trails, directly comparable to Treptichnus, Cochlichnus and Aulichnites; (2) avian tracks and (3) large mammal tracks. Treptichnus-like burrows are attributed to dipteran larvae tracemakers, whereas Cochlichnus- and Helminthoidichnites-like trails were likely from nematodes or oligochaetes. Avian tracks are primarily from seagulls, geese, swans and plovers; mudcracks were connected directly to tracks, which developed as a result of increased amounts of sunlight available during the polar summer. Mammal tracks were dominated by those of caribou (Rangifer tarandus), but include grizzly bear (Ursos arctos) and other mammals. Caribou herds significantly impacted emergent and submergent mudflat surfaces through advection of saturated thixotropic muds and dry sand, while also fracturing mudcracked zones, and hence actively produced mud clasts. Vertebrates thus can cause considerable mixing, redistribution and erosion of sediments in Arctic point bars with only a few months of activity. Ichnodiversity was low but accompanied by high trace abundance, reflecting favorable hydrodynamic, solar and atmospheric conditions throughout a polar summer. In contrast, sedimentation and bioturbation are absent during winter months, when ice cover prevents organismal interactions with fluvial sediments. As a result, the ichnocoenose does not fit easily into paradigms of previously defined continental ichnofacies (e.g., Mermia and Scoyenia) and is more like a composite ichnofacies. These findings can thus serve as a starting point for more detailed studies of circumpolar point bars, while also adding new perspectives to the interpretation of trace fossils in circumpolar fluvial environments.


ichnofacies; polar; Scoyenia; Mermia; trace fossil

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