Patterns of late Cenozoic volcanic and tectonic activity in the West Antarctic rift system revealed by aeromagnetic surveys

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Aeromagnetic surveys, spaced less than or equal to 5 km, over widely separated areas of the largely ice- and sea-covered West Antarctic rift system, reveal similar patterns of 100- to 1700-nT, shallow-source magnetic anomalies interpreted as evidence of extensive late Cenozoic volcanism. We use the aeromagnetic data to extend the volcanic rift interpretation over West Antarctica starting with anomalies over (1) exposures of highly magnetic, late Cenozoic volcanic rocks several kilometers thick in the McMurdo-Ross Island area and elsewhere; continuing through (2) volcanoes and subvolcanic intrusions directly beneath the Ross Sea continental shelf defined by marine magnetic and seismic reflection data and aeromagnetic data and (3) volcanic structures interpreted beneath the Ross Ice Shelf partly controlled by seismic reflection determinations of seafloor depth to (4) an area of similar magnetic pattern over the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (400 lan from the nearest exposed volcanic rock), where interpretations of late Cenozoic volcanic rocks at the base of the ice are controlled in part by radar ice sounding, North trending magnetic rift fabric in the Ross Sea-Ross Ice Shelf and Corridor Aerogeophysics of the Southeast Ross Transect Zone (CASERTZ) areas, revealed by the aeromagnetic surveys, is probably a reactivation of older rift trends Gate Mesozoic?) and is superimposed on still older crosscutting structural trends revealed by magnetic terrace maps calculated from horizontal gradient of pseudogravity. Long wavelength (similar to 100-km wide) magnetic terraces from sources within the subvolcanic basement cross the detailed survey areas. One of these extends across the Ross Sea survey from the front of the Transantarctic Mountains with an east-southeast trend crossing the north trending rift fabric. The Ross Sea-Ross Ice Shelf sun ey area is characterized by highly magnetic northern and southern zones which are separated by magnetically defined faults from a more moderately magnetic central zone. Aeromagnetic data in the south delineate the Ross fault of unknown age. The extension of the southern Central Basin south of the Ross fault is associated with an 825-nT magnetic anomaly over the Ross Ice Shelf requiring inferred late Cenozoic volcanic rock essentially at the seafloor at its south end, as shown by magnetic models. Models show that the thickness of magnetic volcanic rocks beneath Hut Point Peninsula at McMurdo Station is probably <2 km. The detailed surveys, combined with data from >100,000 km of widely spaced aeromagnetic profiles, led to the interpretation of the mostly subglacial West Antarctic flood basalts(?) or their subglacially erupted and intruded equivalent. The volume of the exposed volcanos is small in contrast to the much greater volume (>10(6) km(3)) of late Cenozoic magnetic rock remaining at volcanic centers beneath the continental shelf, Ross Ice Shelf and West Antarctic Ice Sheet. We suggest as an alternative or supplemental explanation to the previously proposed mantle plume hypothesis for the late Cenozoic volcanism significantly greater lower lithosphere (mantle) stretching resulting in greater decompression melting than the limited Cenozoic crustal extension allows. However, this implies a space problem that is not obviously resolved, because the Antarctic Plate is essentially surrounded by spreading centers.


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