In recent years the Transantarctic Mountains (TAM), the largest noncontractional mountain belt in the world, have become the focus of modelers who explained their uplift by a variety of isostatic and thermal mechanisms. A problem with these models is a lack of available data to compare with model predictions. We report here the results of a 312-km-long geophysical traverse conducted in 1993/1994 in the hinterland of the TAM. Using detailed subglacial topography and gravity measurements, we confirm the origin of the TAM as a flexural uplift of the edge of East Antarctica. Using an elastic model with a free edge, we can jointly fit the topography and the gravity with a plate having an elastic thickness of 85 ± 15 km and a preuplift elevation of 700 ± 50 m for East Antarctica. Using a variety of evidence, we argue that the uplift is coincident with a relatively minor tectonic event of transtensional motion between East and West Antarctica during the Eocene rather than the Late Cretaceous rifting event that created the Ross Embayment. We suggest that this transtensional motion caused the continuous plate to break, which created an escarpment that significantly increased the rates of erosion and exhumation. Results from the geophysical traverse also extend our knowledge of the bedrock geology from the exposures within the TAM to the ice covered interior. Our interpretation suggests that the Ferrar flood basalts extend at least 100 km westward under the ice. The Beacon Supergroup of Paleozoic and Mesozoic sediments thins gradually under the ice and its reconstructed thickness is reminiscent of profiles of foreland basins. Finally, there is no indication in the gravity field for an incomplete rebound due to significant melting of the East Antarctic ice sheet since the last glacial period.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geochemistry and Petrology
- Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
- Space and Planetary Science