Abstract

The Cenozoic West Antarctic rift system, characterized by Cenozoic bimodal alkalic volcanic rocks, extends over a largely ice-covered area, from the Ross Sea nearly to the Bellingshausen Sea. It is bounded on one side by a spectacular 4- to 5-km-high rift-shoulder scarp (maximum bedrock relief 5 to 7 km) from northern Victoria Land-Queen Maud Mountains to the Ellsworth-Whitmore-Horlick Mountains. Jurassic tholeiites crop out with the late Cenozoic volcanic rocks along the section of the Transantarctic Mountains from northern Victoria Land to the Horlick Mountains. The Cenozoic rift shoulder diverges here from the Jurassic tholeiite trend, and the tholeiites are exposed discontinuously along the lower elevation (1-2 km) section of the Transantarctic Mountains to the Weddell Sea.

Various lines of evidence, no one of which is independently conclusive, lead us (as othershave also suggested) to interpret the following. The Transantarctic Mountains part of the rift shoulder (and probably the entire shoulder) has been rising since about 60 Ma, at episodic rates of ∼1 km/m.y., most recently since mid-Pliocene time, rather than continuously at the mean rate of 100 m/m.y. Uplift rates vary along the scarp, which is cut by transverse faults. We speculate that this uplift may have climatically forced the advance of the Antarctic ice sheet since the most recent warm period. We suggest a possible synergistic relation between episodic tectonism, mountain uplift, and volcanism in the Cenozoic West Antarctic rift system and waxing and waning of the Antarctic ice sheet beginning about earliest Oligocene time.

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