Earth Science at Athro Limited, Education on the Web: Barrow, Pleistocene Field Trip
 The Pleistocene Gubik Formation, Skull Cliff, Alaska 

Barrow and Skull Cliff on Map of Alaska

This field trip will take you to Pleistocene sedimentary rocks on the coast of the Chukchi Sea in Northern Alaska. The exposures are along a series of sea cliffs on the coast south west of Barrow, Alaska. About 45 km down the coast, just to the east of a small drainage, Tuapaktushak creek, the sea cliffs rise to a height of about 30 meters and are known as Skull Cliff.

This region is an ideal area for examining sea level and climate change in glacial/interglacial episodes. This part of Northern Alaska was repeatedly submerged by high sea levels during interglacial periods over the last couple of million of years. Each of these high sea stands blanketed the area with shallow marine sediments. These sediments preserve a record of life and climate conditions in the arctic ocean during the interglacial episodes of the current ice age.

Coastline south of Barrow
View of the coast along the Chukchi Sea looking South from Barrow.

These interglacial marine sediments are exposed as the Chukchi sea (part of the Arctic ocean) eats into the tundra. The land here is wet tundra, covered with permafrost, with many shallow lakes and swampy areas in the brief arctic summer. It is covered by snow in the winter, with sea ice coming ashore. There are few exposures of the underlying rocks present in the tundra. Exposures are concentrated along the coastline, where the Chukchi sea erodes the land and creates sea cliffs.

Sea cliff exposures at Skull Cliff
Skull Cliff

This trip is to a set of exposures at Skull cliff an aproximately 75 foot (~25 meter) high sea cliff, some 45 km down the coast from Barrow. You can begin the trip and explore these sediments

This virtual field trip for earth science and geology was compiled from images and data collected under a research permit (NSB 96-093) from the North Slope Borough Planning Department, Barrow, Alaska. I would like to acknowledge the considerable assistance of The North Slope Borough, Glen Sheehan of the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium, and Julie Brigham-Grette of The University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Sources: The chief reference on the stratigraphy of the Gubik is: Brigham, J.K., 1985, Marine stratigraphy and amino acid geochronology of the Gubik Formation, western Arctic Coastal Plain, Alaska, [PhD Dissertation], University of Colorado, Boulder, 312 pp.(also published as U.S. Geological Survey Open-file Report 85-381, 218 pp, 2 plates.) Additional references are listed further in the field trip.
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Written by Paul J. Morris
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Date Created: 10 April 1998
Last Updated: 23 Jan 2000