CAREER: Deciphering the Tectonic History of the Transantarctic Mountains and the Wilkes Subglacial Basin
To understand Antarctica's geodynamic development, origin of the Transantarctic Mountains (TAMs) and the Wilkes Subglacial Basin (WSB) must be determined. Current constraints on the crustal thickness and seismic velocity structure beneath the TAMs and the WSB are limited, leading to uncertainties over competing geologic models that have been suggested to explain their formation. The PI proposes to broaden the investigation of this region with a new seismic deployment, the Transantarctic Mountains Northern Network (TAMNNET), a 15-station array across the northern TAMs and the WSB that will fill a major gap in seismic coverage. Data from TAMNNET will be combined with that from other previous and ongoing seismic initiatives and will be analyzed using proven modeling techniques to generate a detailed image of the seismic structure beneath the TAMs and the WSB. These data will be used to test three fundamental hypotheses: the TAMs are underlain by thickened crust, the WSB is characterized by thin crust and thick sedimentary layers, and slow seismic velocities are prevalent along strike beneath the TAMs. Results from the proposed study will provide new information about the nature and formation of the Antarctic continent and will help to advance our understanding of important global processes, such as mountain building and basin formation. The proposed research also has important implications for other fields of Antarctic science. Constraints on the origin of the TAMs uplift are critical for climate and ice sheet models, and new information acquired about variations in the thermal and lithospheric structure beneath the TAMs and the WSB will be used to estimate critical ice sheet boundary conditions.
This project incorporates three educational strategies to promote the integration of teaching and research. Graduate students will be trained in Antarctic tectonics and seismic processing through hands-on fieldwork and data analysis techniques. Through NSF's PolarTREC program, the PI will work with K-12 educators. The PI will develop a three-week summer field program for recent high school graduates and early-career undergraduate students from Minority-Serving Institutions in Alabama. Teaching materials and participant experiences will be shared with individuals outside the program via a course website. Following the summer program, participants who were particularly engaged will be offered internship opportunities to analyze TAMNNET data. In successive years, the students could assist with fieldwork and could be recruited into the graduate program under the PI's supervision. Ultimately, this program would not only serve to educate undergraduates but would also generate a pipeline of underrepresented students into the geosciences.
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