Abstract

The late Cenozoic volcanic and tectonic activity of the enigmatic West Antarctic rift system, the least understood of the great active continental rifts, has been suggested to be plume driven. In 1991-1992, as part of the CASERTZ (Corridor Aerogeophysics of the Southeast Ross Transect Zone) program, an ∼25000 km aeromagnetic survey over the ice-covered Byrd subglacial basin shows magnetic "texture" critical to interpretations of the underlying extended volcanic terrane. The aeromagnetic data reveal numerous semicircular anomalies ∼100-1100 nT in amplitude, interpreted as having volcanic sources at the base of the ice sheet; they are concentrated along north-trending magnetic lineations interpreted as rift fabric. Models constrained by coincident radar ice soundings indicate highly magnetic sources, with a probable high remanent magnetization in the present field direction, strongly suggesting a late Cenozoic age. Magnetic anomalies over exposed late Cenozoic volcanic rocks along part of the rift shoulder and in coastal Marie Byrd Land are similar in form and amplitude. The CASERTZ aeromagnetic results, combined with >100 000 km of widely spaced aeromagnetic profiles, indicate at least 106 km3 of probable late Cenozoic volcanic rock (flood basalt?) in the West Antarctic rift beneath the ice sheet and Ross Ice Shelf. Comparison with other plumes in active rift areas (e.g., Yellowstone and East Africa) indicates that this volume estimate lies in the range of magma generation found in these other low-extension continental rifts.

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