Abstract

Anomalous free-air gravity signals in and around the Antarctic continent have been reported for some decades. Recent definition of the Antarctic gravity field from field-based oversnow traverses and supporting data from Earth-orbiting satellites reveal discrete regions of both negative and positive free-air gravity anomalies. The data from these observations have enabled us to construct a free-air gravity anomaly map of Antarctica. Negative free-air gravity anomalies are found to occur mainly on the Antarctic continent, in particular, in the Wilkes Land, Ross Sea, central continental, and Weddell Sea sectors. Positive free-air gravity anomalies are found to occur mainly in the offshore circum-continental sectors. While each of these regions of anomalies provides excellent opportunities for further investigation, including identification of the causes of the negative and positive free-air gravity anomalies, special attention is given to the negative free-air gravity anomaly sites of the continent proper. Three potential sources of the negative free-air gravity anomalies are identified: the mantle, lithosphere, and crust. Examination of thermally induced density variations in the mantle based upon seismic tomography, and analysis of mantle-related gravity anomaly wavelengths favor a gravity anomaly source other than the mantle. Examination of the subcrustal lithosphere based on upper-mantle thermal structure, the origin of the lithosphere, and crustal influences on the underlying lithosphere, including radiogenic heat, implies that the source of the negative free-air gravity anomalies is less likely to be the subcrustal lithosphere and more likely to be located in the Antarctic crust. Examination of possible crustal features that might account for these anomalies leads to a consideration of subglacial topography and specific locales of anomalously low rock density.

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