Paleomagnetism and Magnetostratigraphy of the James Ross Basin, Antarctica
About 80 million years ago, the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula in the vicinity of what is now James Ross Island experienced an episode of rapid subsidence, creating a broad depositional basin that collected sediments eroding from the high mountains to the West. This depression accumulated a thick sequence of fossil-rich, organic-rich sediments of the sort that are known to preserve hydrocarbons, and for which Argentina, Chile, and the United Kingdom have overlapping territorial claims. The rocks preserve one of the highest resolution records of the biological and climatic events that led to the eventual death of the dinosaurs at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary (about 66 million years ago). A previous collaboration between scientists from the Instituto AntÃ¡rtico Argentino (IAA) and NSF-supported teams from Caltech and the University of Washington were able to show that this mass extinction event started nearly 50,000 years before the sudden impact of an asteroid. The asteroid obviously hit the biosphere hard, but something else knocked it off balance well before the asteroid hit.
A critical component of the previous work was the use of reversals in the polarity of the Earth?s magnetic field as a dating tool ? magnetostratigraphy. This allowed the teams to correlate the pattern of magnetic reversals from Antarctica with elsewhere on the planet. This includes data from a major volcanic eruption (a flood basalt province) that covered much of India 65 million years ago. The magnetic patterns indicate that the Antarctic extinction started with the first pulse of this massive eruption, which was also coincident with a rapid spike in polar temperature. The Argentinian and US collaborative teams will extend this magnetic polarity record back another ~ 20 million years in time, and expand it laterally to provide magnetic reversal time lines across the depositional basin. They hope to recover the end of the Cretaceous Long Normal interval, which is one of the most distinctive events in the history of Earth?s magnetic field. The new data should refine depositional models of the basin, allow better estimates of potential hydrocarbon reserves, and allow biotic events in the Southern hemisphere to be compared more precisely with those elsewhere on Earth. Other potential benefits of this work include exposing several US students and postdoctoral fellows to field based research in Antarctica, expanding the international aspects of this collaborative work via joint IAA/US field deployments, and follow-up laboratory investigations and personnel exchange of the Junior scientists.
Technical Description of Project
The proposed research will extend the stratigraphic record in the late Cretaceous and early Tertiary sediments (~ 83 to 65 Ma before present) of the James Ross Basin, Antarctica, using paleo-magnetic methods. Recent efforts provided new methods to analyze these rocks, yielding their primary magnetization, and producing both magnetic polarity patterns and paleomagnetic pole positions. This provided the first reliable age constraints for the younger sediments on Seymour Island, and quantified the sedimentation rate in this part of the basin. The new data will allow resolution of the stable, remnant magnetization of the sediments from the high deposition rate James Ross basin (Tobin et al., 2012), yielding precise chronology/stratigraphy. This approach will be extended to the re-maining portions of this sedimentary basin, and will allow quantitative estimates for tectonic and sedimentary processes between Cretaceous and Early Tertiary time. The proposed field work will refine the position of several geomagnetic reversals that occurred be-tween the end of the Cretaceous long normal period (Chron 34N, ~ 83 Ma), and the lower portion of Chron 31R (~ 71 Ma). Brandy Bay provides the best locality for calibrating the stratigraphic position of the top of the Cretaceous Long Normal Chron, C34N. Although the top of the Cretaceous long normal Chron is one of the most important correlation horizons in the entire geological timescale, it is not properly correlated to the southern hemisphere biostratigraphy. Locating this event, as well as the other reversals, will be a major addition to understanding of the geological history of the Antarctic Peninsula. These data will also help refine tectonic models for the evolution of the Southern continents, which will be of use across the board for workers in Cretaceous stratigraphy (including those involved in oil exploration).
This research is a collaborative effort with Dr. Edward Olivero of the Centro Austral de Investigaciones Cientificas (CADIC/CONICET) and Prof. Augusto Rapalini of the University of Buenos Aires. The collaboration will include collection of samples on their future field excursions to important targets on and around James Ross Island, supported by the Argentinian Antarctic Program (IAA). Argentinian scientists and students will also be involved in the US Antarctic program deployments, proposed here for the R/V Laurence Gould, and will continue the pattern of joint international publication of the results.
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