Collaborative Research: Exhumation of the Transantarctic Mountains: Constraints from (U-Th)/He Dating of Apatites
This award, provided by the Antarctic Geology and Geophysics Program of the Office of Polar Programs, supports an investigation of the uplift history of the Dry Valleys segment of the Transantarctic Mountains. The overall goal is to further constrain the exhumation history of the Transantarctic Mountains by using the newly developed apatite (U-Th)/He dating method on samples collected in vertical profiles. This approach, combined with existing apatite fission track information will constrain the rate and patterns of exhumation across the Transantarctic Mountains since their inception as a rift-flank uplift in the early Cenozoic.
This project will complement other projects and build on previous interpretations of the exhumation and tectonic history determined using apatite fission track thermochronology. It will bridge the gap between information on erosion rates determined from fission track thermochronology and from cosmogenic surface exposure dating and integrate the exhumation history of the mountains with their landscape evolution. As such, the results from this project will address an outstanding problem in Antarctic science; namely the stability of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, and the timing of the transition from a "warm" dynamic ice sheet to a cold polar ice sheet. Highly relevant to this issue is the landscape evolution of the Transantarctic Mountains because many diverse lines of evidence for the rate of landscape evolution have been used to argue for a dynamic ice sheet up until either the Pliocene (the "dynamic" ice sheet model) or the middle Miocene (the "stable" ice sheet model). Understanding the past stability or dynamic fluctuations of the East Antarctic ice sheet with respect to the climate record is, of course, important for understanding how the present ice sheet may respond to global warming.
The specific objective of this project is to determine apatite (U-Th)/He age versus elevation trends for a number of vertical profiles from locations within the Transantarctic Mountain front and across the structural grain of the range. Fission track data already exist for all of these profiles, with apatite fission track ages ranging from 150-30 Ma. The greater precision of the (U-Th)/He technique and the fact it records information at lower temperatures (closure temperature of ~70 degrees Celsius; limits of 40-85 degrees Celsius for the He partial retention zone) will allow examination of the exhumation history of the TAM in more detail from ca 130 Ma to ~20 Ma. Another facet is to examine areas where Cretaceous exhumation is recorded and areas where the fission track profiles indicate periods of thermal and tectonic stability and minimal erosion throughout the Cretaceous. The variation of timing of the onset of more rapid exhumation accompanying uplift and formation of the Transantarctic Mountains in the early Cenozoic will also be examined.
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