New airborne-gravity and satellite gravity views of crustal structure in Antarctica

Wilfried.Jokat [ at ]


Gravity anomalies provide a tool to study crustal structure, effective elastic thickness, and isostatic and tectonic processes. Over the last 10 years major airborne gravity surveys were flown by the international community over several Antarctic frontiers. The longer-wavelength Antarctic gravity anomaly field is increasingly better resolved with satellite-gravity. These recent airborne and satellite gravity datasets provide novel perspectives on Antarctic crustal structure and geodynamic evolution. We review results from some of these surveys over the Gamburtsev Subglacial Mountains, Dronning Maud Land, the Wilkes Subglacial Basin, the Transantarctic Mountains and the West Antarctic Rift System and present gravity modelling outputs of crustal thickness for these regions. We contrast these gravity results with a seismically-derived estimation of Antarctic crustal thickness (Baranov and Morelli, 2013, Tectonophys). Anomalously thick East Antarctic crust lies beneath the Gamburtsev Mountains and parts of Dronning Maud Land (50-58 km). Crustal thickening may stem from the collision of a mosaic of East Antarctic crustal provinces in Meso to Neoproterozoic times (Ferraccioli et al., 2011, Nature), or during younger Edicaran to early Cambrian “Pan-African age” orogenic events. The preservation of such thick crust provides significant support for the high bedrock topography in East Antarctica. Additional flexural uplift along the flanks of the Permian to Cretaceous East Antarctic Rift System helps explain the enigmatic Gamburtsev Mountains. Lithospheric flexure along the flank of the West Antarctic Rift System (WARS) may explain the Transantarctic Mountains (TAM), the longest and highest non-compressional mountain range on Earth. Whether the Wilkes Subglacial Basin also developed in response to lithospheric flexure is debated. Our gravity models image thicker crust beneath the Transantarctic Mountains (TAM) (ca 40 km thick), compared to the relatively thinner crust (30-35 km) beneath the Wilkes Subglacial Basin (Jordan et al., 2013 Tectonophys); this is difficult to reconcile with previous flexural model predictions. Three geodynamic processes could explain the thicker crust beneath the TAM: i) Cambrian-Ordovician subduction and accretion along the East Antarctic craton margin; ii) formation of a Paleozoic to Mesozoic plateau in West Antarctica that collapsed leaving behind a region of thicker crust; iii) extensive Jurassic magmatic underplating related to Gondwana break-up. Gravity modelling helps trace the WARS beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). The interior Ross Sea Embayment features 25-28 km-thick crust, while parts of the Amundsen Sea Embayment (ASE) are underlain by 19-23 km-thick crust. Narrow Cenozoic rifts may be interspersed with regions of more distributed Cretaceous extension, explaining the anomalously thin crust and lower Te values beneath the ASE. Major contrasts within the WARS are relevant also for the WAIS as these likely exert a key influence on geothermal heat flux variations, which in turn influence basal melting and ice motion.

Item Type
Conference (Conference paper)
Primary Division
Primary Topic
Publication Status
Event Details
AGU Fall Meeting, 09 Dec 2013 - 13 Dec 2013, San Francisco, USA.
Eprint ID
Cite as
Ferrarccioli, F. , Kusznir, N. , Scheinert, M. , Jordan, T. A. , Bell, R. E. , Blankenship, D. D. , Young, D. A. , Aitken, A. , Forsberg, R. , Anderson, L. , Jokat, W. , Mieth, M. and Amadillo, E. (2013): New airborne-gravity and satellite gravity views of crustal structure in Antarctica , AGU Fall Meeting, San Francisco, USA, 9 December 2013 - 13 December 2013 .

Add to AnyAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to LinkedinAdd to PinterestAdd to Email

Research Platforms


Edit Item Edit Item