Project Information
Collaborative Research: Geophysical Mapping of the East Antarctic Shield Adjacent to the Transantarctic Mountains
This award, provided by the Antarctic Geology and Geophysics Program of the Office of Polar Programs, supports a project to investigate the Transantarctic Mountains and an adjacent region of East Antarctica. The East Antarctic shield is one of Earth's oldest and largest cratonic assemblies, with a long-lived Archean to early Paleozoic history. Long-standing interest in the geologic evolution of this shield has been rekindled over the past decade by tectonic models linking East Antarctica with other Precambrian crustal elements in the Rodinia and Gondwanaland supercontinents. It is postulated that the Pacific margin of East Antarctica was rifted from Laurentia during late Neoproterozoic breakup of Rodinia, and it then developed as an active plate boundary during subsequent amalgamation of Gondwanaland in the earliest Paleozoic. If true, the East Antarctic shield played a key role in supercontinent transformation at a time of global changes in plate configuration, terrestrial surficial process, sea level, and marine geochemistry and biota. A better understanding of the geological evolution of the East Antarctic shield is therefore critical for studying Precambrian crustal evolution in general, as well as resource distribution, biosphere evolution, and glacial and climate history during later periods of Earth history. Because of nearly complete coverage by the polar ice cap, however, Antarctica remains the single most geologically unexplored continent. Exposures of cratonic basement are largely limited to coastal outcrops in George V Land and Terre Adelie (Australian sector), the Prince Charles Mountains and Enderby Land (Indian sector), and Queen Maud Land (African sector), where the geology is reasonably well-known. By contrast, little is known about the composition and structure of the shield interior. Given the extensive ice cover, collection of airborne geophysical data is the most cost-effective method to characterize broad areas of sub-ice basement and expand our knowledge of the East Antarctic shield interior.

This project will conduct an airborne magnetic survey (coupled with ground-based gravity measurements) across an important window into the shield where it is exposed in the Nimrod Glacier area of the central Transantarctic Mountains. Specific goals are to:
1. Characterize the magnetic and gravity signature of East Antarctic crustal basement exposed at the Ross margin (Nimrod Group),
2. Extend the magnetic data westward along a corridor across the polar ice cap in order to image the crust in ice-covered areas,
3. Obtain magnetic data over the Ross Orogen in order to image the ice-covered boundary between basement and supracrustal rocks, allowing us to better constrain the geometry of fundamental Ross structures, and
4. Use the shape, trends, wavelengths, and amplitudes of magnetic anomalies to define magnetic domains in the shield, common building blocks for continent-scale studies of Precambrian geologic structure and evolution.

High-resolution airborne magnetic data will be collected along a transect extending from exposed rocks of the Nimrod Group across the adjacent polar ice cap. The Nimrod Group represents the only bona fide Archean-Proterozoic shield basement exposed for over 2500 km of the Pacific margin of Antarctica. This survey will characterize the geologically well-known shield terrain in this sector using geophysical methods for the first time. This baseline over the exposed shield will allow for better interpretation of geophysical patterns in other ice-covered regions and can be used to target future investigations. In collaboration with colleagues from the BGR (Germany), a tightly-spaced, "draped" helicopter magnetic survey will be flown during the 2003-04 austral summer, to be complemented by ground measurements of gravity over the exposed basement. Data reduction, interpretation and geological correlation will be completed in the second year. This project will enhance the education of students, the advancement of under-represented groups, the research instrumentation of the U.S. Antarctic Program, partnerships between the federal government and institutions of higher education, and cooperation between national research programs. It will benefit society through the creation of new basic knowledge about the Antarctic continent, which in turn may help with applied research in other fields such as the glacial history of Antarctica.
Person Role
Finn, C. A. Investigator
FINN, CAROL Investigator
Unknown Program Award # 0232042
AMD - DIF Record(s)
Data Management Plan
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Platforms and Instruments

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