The Beacon Supergroup is a geological formation exposed in Antarctica and deposited from the Devonian to the Triassic ( ). The unit was originally described as either a formation or sandstone, and upgraded to group and supergroup as time passed. It contains a sandy member known as the Beacon heights orthoquartzite.
The base of the Beacon Supergroup is marked by an unconformity, and is composed of the Devonian Taylor Group, a quartzose sandstone sequence, and a Late Carboniferous to Early Jurassic Victoria Group, consisting of glacial beds, sandstone, shale, conglomerate, and coal. The Beacon Sandstone was named by Hartley T. Ferrar during Scott's Discovery Expedition (1901-1904), using the Beacon Heights survey points as reference. Glossopteris fossils dated the sandstone as Permian and linked the lithology to similar sequences in neighboring continents. Generally flat lying, the supergroup is up to 3.2 km thick, and is fairly continuous from south Victoria Land to the Beardmore Glacier along the Transantarctic Mountains. The Urfjell Group in Dronning Maud Land, and the Neptune Group in the Pensacola Mountains have been correlated with the Taylor Group. Macrofossils and palynomorph assemblages age date Devonian, Late Carboniferous-Early Permian, Late Permian and Triassic strata. The Ferrar Dolerite intrudes at various levels, while the Mawson Formation and Kirkpatrick Basalts within the Ferrar Supergroup cap the Beacon Supergroup.
The location of the formation in a cold, desert environment, and the lack of nutrients or soil (due to the purity of the sandstone) has led to the beacon sandstone being considered the closest analogue on Earth to Martian conditions, therefore many studies have been performed on life's survival there, mainly focusing on the lichen communities that form the modern inhabitants.
The supergroup originated in a shallow marine sedimentary depositional environment. The well-sorted nature of the unit suggests that it was probably deposited close to the shoreline, in a high energy environment. Features, such as the presence of coal beds and desiccation cracks, suggest that parts of the unit were deposited subaerially, though ripple marks and cross bedding show that shallow water was also commonly present. Heat from burial is modest, though they could have been heated to over 160 ° by intrusion of dolerite sills, dykes and lenses during the early Jurassic, related to break up of Gondwana . The rock is low in phosphorus.
The Taylor Group is separated from the overlying Victoria Group by a disconformity called the Maya Erosion Surface. Taylor Group formations in the Darwin Mountains region include the Brown Hills Conglomerate (34 m), which overlies pre-Devonian plutonic rocks, of igneous and metamorphic nature, with over 30 m of erosional relief, and igneous and metamorphic clasts. The conglomerate is poorly sorted at the base, with influxes of coarser material. Coarseness is laterally variable with pebbles in places, and sands in others, at the same horizon. The conglomerate includes planar beds, trough cross-bedding, flaser bedding, mud-drapes on some ripples, U-shaped burrows and escape structures, with fining up cycles topped by desiccation cracks in places. Depositional environment is probably that of an alluvial fan, though unidirectional flow and sheet-like deposition point to braided channels. Equivalent strata in South Victoria Land include the Wind Gully Sandstone (80 m), the Terra Cotta Siltstone (82 m), and the New Mountain Sandstone (250 m), which are separated from the overlying Altar Mountain Formation (235 m) and Arena Sandstone (385 m) by a disconformity.
Within the Darwin Mountains region, the Junction Sandstone (290 m) overlies the Brown Hills Conglomerate, with abundant Skolithos. This is followed by the Hatherton sandstone (330 m), with brachiopod and bivalve shell fragments in places. Trough cross beds and current rippling are present, with abundant ichnofauna. Drainage was to the north east, with the depositional environment presumed to be marine, though also present are subaerial features such as desiccation cracks, rain drop impressions, surface run-off channels, muddy veneers, and redbeds, besides river-like features such as small channels.
The Beacon Heights Orthoquartzite (330 m) is found in the S. Victoria Land region between the Arena Sandstone and the overlying Devonian Aztec Siltstone. It is well sorted and cemented with medium to coarse grain sizes, trough cross-beds, with Haplostigma and Beaconites remnants.
The Aztec Siltstone (125–220 m) is found both in South Victoria Land and the Darwin Mountains. The siltstone includes interbedded sandstones, fish-bearing shales, conchostracans, and paleosols implying subaerial periods within an alluvial plain sequence.
The Victoria Group begins with a diamictite-bearing unit, known as the Metschel Tillite (0–70 m) in South Victoria Land, the Darwin Tillite (82 m) in the Darwin Mountains, the Pagoda Tillite (395 m) at the Beardmore Glacier, the Scott Glacier Formation (93 m) on the Nilsen Plateau, and the Buckeye Tillite (140–308 m) in the Wisconsin Range and Ohio Range. The glacial beds are valley fill or occur as sheets. This is followed by the Misthound Coal Measures (150 m) in the Darwin Mountains and the Permian Weller Coal Measures (250 m) in South Victoria Land. A disconformity separates the Misthound Coal Measures from the overlying Ellis Formation (177 m), consisting of conglomerate, sandstone and siltstone. The Pyramid Erosion Surface separates the Mitschell Tillite and the Weller Coal Measures, which are overlain by the Feather Conglomerate (215 m), the Triassic Lashly Formation (520 m). The Pagoda Tillite is overlain by the MacKellar Formation (140 m) of interbedded black shales and fine sandstones, the Lower Permian Fairchild Formation (220 m) arkosic sandstone, the Upper Permian Buckley Formation (750 m), the Middle-Lower Triassic Fremouw Formation (650 m), the Upper-Middle Triassic Falla Formation (530 m), and the Jurassic Prebble Formation (0–460 m) volcanic conglomerate, tuff and tuffaceous sandstone.
The Aztec sandstone contains units bearing body fossils of fish: Phyllolepid placoderms, and thelodonts; abundant in fish beds; and conchostracans. The presence of *Scoyenia ichnofacies implies freshwater. Also present are charred wood remnants, and the plants Glossopteris and Haplostigma. The wood bears clear rings, indicating a seasonal environment, and large enough to represent a temperate climate, though glacial just before Beacon deposition.
Sparse below, but become common in Hatherton Sandstone. Changes from Skolithos-dominated facies to wide diversity and abundance, including vertical and horizontal burrows, and huge arthropod trackways. Size of arthropod tracks (less than 91 cm) is taken to imply that water must have been required for support:
- Fodinichnia: feeding burrows, probably of marine polychaetes, featuring evidence of rhythmic defecation.
- Narrow, sinuous, near-surface forms on flat bedding surfaces
- Longer, larger forms, reaching 13 cm across and 1 m in length.
- Walking trackways of arthropods (Repichnia).
- Beaconites antarcticus: Narrow, parallel grooves, about an inch apart, disappearing into elliptical pits; created by shovelling the surface sediment aside before burrowing into the sediment. Occasionally branch.
- Wider spaced grooves (~3 cm); small footprints visible. Implies many walking limbs and an approximately rectangular shape - reminiscent of the trilobites. B. barretti? Extend laterally up to 1.7m; burrow "deeply" into sediment. Probably produced by a very different arthropod to B. antarcticus.
- Large (~30 cm wide) trails with a scrape mark from a central tail. Three to four footprint pits diverge from these tracks at a high angle. The feet making the footprints had spines on their rears. These may have been formed by eurypterids but aren't a perfect match to known eurypterid trails; they may also have been formed by Xiphosurans
- Diplichnites trackways - double rows of fossils - previously attributed to marine trilobites. Clearly not - so perhaps annelids / myriapods? Here appear on metre-scale crossbeds: sub-fluvial dunes?
The presence of crawling traces in such well sorted sands is problematic. The arthropod trackways are thought to have been formed in shallow water, and supersaturated sand has a shallow angle of repose. Thus either a layer of organic matter, perhaps in the form of an algal slime, must have supported the sediment, or the sediment must have been partially dry. In the context of subaerial features such as raindrop marks and desiccation cracks on associated horizons, the best explanation is that the trackways were formed on bedforms produced on a river bed, but while they were exposed by a low-flow period.
- Cruziana and Rusophycus: thought to be formed by trilobites, whose body fossils are only found in marine assemblages. Could also have been made by other arthropods, or the lower parts of the Beacon sandstone may have been marine. They have been found in many other non-marine instances.
- Skolithos: traditionally thought to be marine, however there are many examples where it is non-marine.
- Bradshaw, Margaret A. (August 6, 2013). "The Taylor Group (Beacon Supergroup): the Devonian sediments of Antarctica". Geological Society of London, Special Publications. 81: 67–97. doi:10.1144/SP381.23. S2CID 128566638. Retrieved December 13, 2013.
- Stewart, Duncan Jr. "The Petrography of the Beacon Sandstone of the South Victoria Land" (PDF). Mineralogical Society of America. Retrieved 2008-04-23.
- Hamilton W, Hayes PT (1963). "Type section of the Beacon Sandstone of Antarctica". US Geol Survey Prof Paper. 456-A: 1–18.
- "Scott's Terra Nova Antarctic Expedition". Archived from the original on 2008-03-20. Retrieved 2008-04-23.
- Friedmann, E.I.; Weed, R. (1987). "Microbial trace-fossil formation, biogenous, and abiotic weathering in the Antarctic cold desert". Science. 236 (4802): 703–705. doi:10.1126/science.11536571. PMID 11536571.
- Elliott, R.B.; Evans, W.D. (1963). "A Beacon Sandstone: its Petrology and Hydrocarbon Content". Nature. 199 (4894): 686–687. Bibcode:1963Natur.199..686E. doi:10.1038/199686b0. S2CID 40903387.
- Kamp, P.J.J.; Lowe, D.J. (1982). "Geology and terrestrial age of the Derrick Peak meteorite occurrence, Antarctica". Meteoritics. 17 (3): 119–127. Bibcode:1982Metic..17..119K. doi:10.1111/j.1945-5100.1982.tb00563.x.
- Barrett, P.J. (1991). Tingey, Robert (ed.). The Devonian to Jurassic Beacon Supergroup of the Transantarctic Mountains and correlatives in other parts of Antarctica, in The Geology of Antarctica. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 120–152. ISBN 0198544677.
- St. John, Bill (1986). Halbouty, Michel (ed.). Antarctica-Geology and Hydrocarbon Potential, in Future Petroleum Provinces of the World. Tulsa: American Association of Petroleum Geologists. pp. 61–72. ISBN 0891813179.
- e.g. Derek Pullan; Frances Westall; Beda A. Hofmann; John Parnell; Charles S. Cockell; Howell G.M. Edwards; Susana E. Jorge Villar; Christian Schroder; Gordon Cressey; Lucia Marinangeli; Lutz Richter; Gostar Klingelhofer. (2008). "Identification of Morphological Biosignatures in Martian Analogue Field Specimens Using In Situ Planetary Instrumentation". Astrobiology. 8 (1): 119–56. Bibcode:2008AsBio...8..119P. doi:10.1089/ast.2006.0037. hdl:1893/17124. PMID 18211229.
- Angino, E.E.; Owen, D.E. (1962). "Sedimentologic Study of Two Members of the Beacon Formation, Windy Gully, Victoria Land, Antarctica". Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science. 65 (1): 61–69. doi:10.2307/3626470. JSTOR 3626470.
- Gevers, T.W.; Frakes, L.A.; Edwards, L.N.; Marzolf, J.E. (1971). "Trace Fossils in the Lower Beacon Sediments (Devonian), Darwin Mountains, Southern Victoria Land, Antarctica". Journal of Paleontology. 45 (1): 81–94. JSTOR 1302754.
- Bernet, M.; Gaupp, R. (2005). "Diagenetic history of Triassic sandstone from the Beacon Supergroup in central Victoria Land, Antarctica" (PDF). New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics. 48 (3): 447–458. doi:10.1080/00288306.2005.9515125. S2CID 128596281.
- Banerjee, M.; Whitton, BA; Wynn-Williams, DD (2000). "Phosphatase Activities of Endolithic Communities in Rocks of the Antarctic Dry Valleys". Microbial Ecology. 39 (1): 80–91. doi:10.1007/s002489900188. PMID 10790521. S2CID 25215310.
- Bradshaw, M.A.; Harmsen, F.J. (2007). The paleoenvironmental significance of trace fossils in Devonian sediments (Taylor Group), Darwin Mountains to the Dry Valleys, southern Victoria Land (PDF). 10th International Symposium on Antarctic Earth Sciences. 1047. Retrieved 2008-04-22.
- Woolfe, K.J. (1993). "Devonian depositional environments in the Darwin Mountains: Marine or non-marine?". Antarctic Science. 5 (2): 211–220. Bibcode:1993AntSc...5..211W. doi:10.1017/S0954102093000276.
- Woolfe, K.J. (1994). "Cycles of erosion and deposition during the Permo-Carboniferous glaciation in the Transantarctic Mountains". Antarctic Science. 6 (1): 93–104. Bibcode:1994AntSc...6...93W. doi:10.1017/S095410209400012X.
- Woolfe, K.J. (1990). "Trace fossils as paleoenvironmental indicators in the Taylor Group (Devonian) of Antarctica". Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. 80 (3–4): 301–310. Bibcode:1990PPP....80..301W. doi:10.1016/0031-0182(90)90139-X.
- Isbell, J.L.; Lenaker, P.A.; Askin, R.A.; Miller, M.F.; Babcock, L.E. (2003). "Reevaluation of the timing and extent of late Paleozoic glaciation in Gondwana: Role of the Transantarctic Mountains". Geology. 31 (11): 977–980. Bibcode:2003Geo....31..977I. doi:10.1130/G19810.1.
- Collinson, J.W. (1991). Thomson, M.R.A.; Crame, J.A.; Thomson, J.W. (eds.). The palaeo-Pacific margin as seen from East Antarctica, in Geological Evolution of Antarctica. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 199–204. ISBN 9780521372664.
- PR Pinet; DB Matz; MO Hayes (1971). "An Upper Paleozoic Tillite in the Dry Valleys, South Victoria Land, Antarctica: NOTES". Journal of Sedimentary Research. 41 (3): 835–838. Bibcode:1971JSedR..41..835P. doi:10.1306/74D7236A-2B21-11D7-8648000102C1865D.
- Isbell, J.L. (1991). Thomson, M.R.A.; Crame, J.A.; Thomson, J.W. (eds.). Evidence for a low-gradient alluvial fan from the palaeo-Pacific margin in the Upper Permian Buckley Formation, Beardmore Glacier area, Antarctica, in Geological Evolution of Antarctica. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 215–217. ISBN 9780521372664.
- Frisch, R.S.; Miller, M.F. (1991). Thomson, M.R.A.; Crame, J.A.; Thomson, J.W. (eds.). Provenance and tectonic implications of sandstones within the Permian Mackellar Formation, Beacon Supergroup of East Antarctica, in Geological Evolution of Antarctica. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 219–223. ISBN 9780521372664.
- Allowing dating to late Mid Devonian
- Woolfe, K.J. (2004). "Cycles of erosion and deposition during the Permo-Carboniferous glaciation in the Transantarctic Mountains". Antarctic Science. 6 (1): 93–104. Bibcode:1994AntSc...6...93W. doi:10.1017/S095410209400012X.
- Turner, S.; Young, G.C. (2004). "Thelodont scales from the Middle-Late Devonian Aztec Siltstone, southern Victoria Land, Antarctica". Antarctic Science. 4 (1): 89–105. Bibcode:1992AntSc...4...89T. doi:10.1017/S0954102092000142.
- Plume, R.W. (1982). Craddock, C. (ed.). Sedimentology and palaeocurrent analysis of the basal part of the Beacon Supergroup (Devonian (and older?) to Triassic) in south Victoria Land, Antarctica. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
- Geevers TW & Twomey (1982). Craddock, C (ed.). Sedimentology and palaeocurrent analysis of the basal part of the Beacon Supergroup (Devonian (and older?) to Triassic) in south Victoria Land, Antarctica. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 639–648.
- Sherwood, A.M.; Woolfe, K.J.; Kirk, P.A. (1988). "Geological mapping and preliminary paleoenvironmental interpretations of the Taylor Group in the knobhead area, Southern Victoria Land". New Zealand Antarctic Record. 8 (2): 60–61.
- Plume, RW (1978). "A revision of the existing stratigraphy of the New Mountain Sandstone (Beacon Supergroup), South Victoria Land, Antarctica". New Zealand Journal of Geology & Geophysics. 21 (2): 167–173. doi:10.1080/00288306.1978.10424048.
- Barrett PJ, Kohn BP (1975). Campbell KSW (ed.). Gondwana Geology. Canberra: ANU Press. pp. 15–35.
- Barrett, PJ (1979). Proceedings of the 4th International Gondwana Symposium (1977). Calcutta. pp. 478–480.
- Bradshaw MA (1981). "Paleoenvironmental interpretations and systematics of Devonian trace fossils from the Taylor Group (lower Beacon Supergroup), Antarctica". New Zealand Journal of Geology & Geophysics. 24 (5–6): 615–652. doi:10.1080/00288306.1981.10421537.