Age and Composition of the East Antarctic Shield by Isotopic Analysis of Granite and Glacial Till
Because of extensive ice cover and sparse remote-sensing data, the geology of the Precambrian East Antarctic Shield (EAS) remains largely unexplored with information limited to coastal outcrops from the African, Indian and Australian sectors. The East Antarctic lithosphere is globally important: as one of the largest coherent Precambrian shields, including rocks as old as ~3.8 Ga, it played an important role in global crustal growth; it is a key piece in assembly of the Rodinia and Gondwana supercontinents; it is the substrate to Earth?s major ice cap, including numerous sub-glacial lakes, and influences its thermal state and mechanical stability; and its geotectonic association with formerly adjacent continental blocks in South Africa, India and Australia suggest that it might harbor important mineral resources. This project will increase understanding of the age and composition of the western EAS lithosphere underlying and adjacent to the Transantarctic Mountains (TAM) using U-Pb ages, and Hf- and O-isotope analysis of zircon in early Paleozoic granitoids and Pleistocene glacial tills. TAM granites of the early Paleozoic Ross Orogen represent an areally extensive continental-margin arc suite that can provide direct information about the EAS crust from which it melted and/or through which it passed. Large rock clasts of igneous and metamorphic lithologies entrained in glacial tills at the head of major outlet glaciers traversing the TAM provide eroded samples of the proximal EAS basement. Zircons in these materials will provide data about age and inheritance (U-Pb), crustal vs. mantle origin (O isotopes), and crustal sources and evolution (Hf isotopes). Integrated along a significant part of the TAM, these data will help define broader crustal provinces that can be correlated with geophysical data and used to test models of crustal assembly.
This project will provide a research opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students. Undergraduates will be involved as Research Assistants in sample preparation, imaging, and analytical procedures, and conducting their own independent research. The two main elements of this project will form the basis of MS thesis projects for two graduate students at UMD. Through this project they will gain a good understanding of petrology, isotope geochemistry, and analytical methods. The broader scientific impacts of this work are that it will help develop a better understanding of the origin and evolution of East Antarctic lithosphere underlying and adjacent to the TAM, which will be of value to the broader earth science and glaciological community. Furthermore, knowledge of East Antarctic geology is of continuing interest to the general public because of strong curiosity about past supercontinents, what?s under the ice, and the impact of global warming on ice-sheet stability.
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