Collaborative Research: Improved Cenozoic Plate Reconstructions of the Circum-Antarctic Region
This award, provided by the Antarctic Geology and Geophysics Program of the Office of Polar Programs, provides funds for a project to make use of ship-repositioning transit cruises to gather geophysical information relating to plate tectonics of the Southern Ocean and to support student training activities. Well-constrained Cenozoic plate reconstructions of the circum-Antarctic region are critical for examining a number of problems of global geophysical importance. These problems include, e.g., relating the plate kinematics to its geological consequences in various plate circuits (Pacific-North America, Australia-Pacific); a dynamical understanding of what drives plate tectonics (which requires well-constrained kinematic information in order to distinguish between different geodynamic hypotheses); and an understanding of the rheology of the plates themselves, including the amount of internal deformation they can support, and the conditions leading to the formation of new plate boundaries through breakup of existing plates. By obtaining better constraints on the motion of the Antarctica plate with respect to these other plates, and by better quantifying the internal deformation within Antarctica (between East and West Antarctica), contributions will be made to solving these other fundamental problems.
In this project, existing data will be analyzed to address several specific issues related to plate motions involving the Antarctic plate. First, work will be done on four-plate solutions of Australia-Pacific-West Antarctica-East Antarctica motion, in order to most tightly constrain the rotation parameters for separation between East and West Antarctica for the time period from about 45 to 28 Ma (Adare Basin spreading system). This will be done by imposing closure on the four-plate circuit and using relevant marine geophysical data from all four of the boundaries. The uncertainties in the resulting rotation parameters will be determined based on the uncertainties in the data points. These uncertainties can then be propagated in the plate circuit for use in addressing the various global geodynamic problems mentioned above. Second, rotation parameters for Pacific-West Antarctica during Tertiary time will be determined using recently acquired well-navigated Palmer transit data and any additional data that can be acquired during the course of this project. These parameters and their uncertainties will be used in assessments of plate rigidity and included in the plate circuit studies.
In the framework of this project, new collection of marine geophysical data will be accomplished on a very flexible schedule. This will be done by collecting underway gravity, magnetics, and swath bathymetric data on Palmer transit cruises of geological importance. This has been successfully done on eight previous Palmer cruises since 1997, the most recent four of which were funded under a collaborative OPP grant to CalTech and Scripps which is now expiring. On one of the suitable transits, a formal class in marine geophysics will be conducted that will afford an opportunity to 12 or more graduate and undergraduate students, from CalTech and Scripps as well as other institutions. In this way, educational activities will be integrated with the usual scientific data collection objectives of the research project.
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