Contrasting Architecture and Dynamics of the Transantarctic Mountains
Continental extension produces a great variety of structures from the linear narrow rifts of the East African Rift to the diffuse extension of the Basin and Range Province of the Western U.S. Rift shoulder uplift varies dramatically between rift flanks. The cause of variable rift width and crustal thinning is fairly well explained by variable initial heat flow and crustal thickness. Mechanical stretching of the lithosphere has been linked to rift shoulder uplift but the cause of variable rift flank uplift remains poorly understood. The Transantarctic Mountains (TAM) are an extreme example of rift flank uplift, extending over 3500 km across Antarctica and reaching elevations up to 4500 m and thus constitute a unique feature of EarthOs crust. The range was formed in the extensional environment associated with the Mesozoic and Cenozoic breakup of Gondwanaland. Geological and geophysical work has shown that the TAM developed along the long-lived lithospheric boundary between East and West Antarctica reactivated by a complex history of extensional and translational microplate motions. The TAM are not uniform along strike. Along the OWilkes FrontO, the northern segment of the rift extends from North Victoria Land to Byrd Glacier. The Wilkes Front architecture consists of (1) thin, extended crust forming the Victoria Land Basin in the Ross Sea, (2) the TAM rift shoulder, and (3) a long-wavelength down- ward forming the Wilkes Basin. Contrasting structures are mapped along the OPensacola/PoleO Front, the southern segment of the rift extending from the Nimrod Glacier to the Pensacola Mountains. Along this southern section no rift basin has been mapped to date and the down-ward along the East Antarctic, or ObacksideO, edge of the mountains is less pronounced. A flexural model linking the extension in the Ross Sea to the formation of both the mountains and the Wilkes Basin has been considered as a me chanism for uplift of the entire mountain range. The variability in fundamental architecture along the TAM indicates that neither a single event nor a sequence of identical events produced the rift flank uplift. The observation of variable architecture suggests complex mechanisms and possibly a fundamental limitation in maximum sustainable rift flank elevation. The motivation for studying the TAM is to try to understand the geodynamics of this extreme elevation rift flank. Are the geodynamics of the area unique, or does the history of glaciation and related erosion contribute to the extreme uplift? With the existing data sets it is difficult to confidently constrain the geological architecture across representative sections of the TAM. Any effort to refine geodynamic mechanisms requires this basic understanding of the TAM architecture. The goal of this project is to (1) constrain the architecture of the rift system as well as the distribution and structure of sedimentary basins, glacial erosion and mafic igneous rocks surrounding the rift flank by acquiring three long wavelength geophysical transects with integrated gravity, magnetics, ice- penetrating radar, and ice surface measurements, (2) quantify the contribution of various geodynamic mechanisms to understand the geological conditions which can lead to extreme rift flank uplift, and (3) use the improved understanding of architecture and geophysical data to test geodynamic models in order to improve our understanding both of the TAM geodynamics and the general problem of the geodynamics of rift flank uplift worldwide. This project will allow development of a generalized framework for understanding the development of rift flank uplift as well as address the question of the specific geodynamic evolution of the TAM.
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