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Tectonics of Antarctica

January 1, 1967

Antarctica consists of large and wholly continental east Antarctica and smaller west Antarctica which would form large and small islands, even after isostatic rebound, if its ice cap were melted. Most of east Antarctica is a Precambrian Shield, in much of which charnockites are characteristic. The high Transantarctic Mountains, along the Ross and Weddell Seas, largely follow a geosyncline of Upper Precambrian sedimentary rocks that were deformed, metamorphosed and intruded by granitic rocks during Late Cambrian or Early Ordovician time. The rocks of the orogen were peneplained, then covered by thin and mostly continental Devonian-Jurassic sediments, which were intruded by Jurassic diabase sheets and overlain by plateau-forming tholeiites. Late Cenozoic doming and block-faulting have raised the present high mountains. Northeastern Victoria Land, the end of the Transantarctic Mountains south of New Zealand, preserves part of a Middle Paleozoic orogen. Clastic strata laid unconformably upon the Lower Paleozoic plutonic complex were metamorphosed at low grade, highly deformed and intruded by Late Devonian or Early Carboniferous granodiorites. The overlying Triassic continental sedimentary rocks have been broadly folded and normal-faulted. Interior west Antarctica is composed of miogeosynclinal clastic and subordinate carbonate rocks which span the Paleozoic Era and which were deformed, metamorphosed at generally low grade, and intruded by granitic rocks during Early Mesozoic time and possibly during other times also. Patterns of orogenic belts, if systematic, cannot yet be defined; but fragmentation and rotation of crustal blocks by oroclinal folding and strike-slip faulting can be suggested. The Ellsworth Mountains, for example, consist of Cambrian-Permian metasedimentary rocks that strike northward toward the noncorrelative and latitudinally striking Mesozoic terrane of the Antarctic Peninsula in one direction and southward toward that of the Lower Paleozoic: terrane of the Transantarctic Mountains in the other; the three regions may be separated by great strike-slip faults. The Antarctic Peninsula in west Antarctica, south of South America, consists of metavolcanic and metasedimentary rocks intruded by Late Cretaceous quartz diorite. The pre-granitic rocks are of Jurassic and Early Cretaceous ages wherever they have been dated by fossils, although some crystalline complexes may be older. The S-shape of the peninsula may represent oroclinal bending within Cenozoic time as part of a motion system in which a narrow continental bridge between South America and Antarctica was deformed and ruptured. Perhaps this bridge lagged behind as the larger continental plates drifted into the Pacific Ocean Basin. ?? 1967.

Publication Year 1967
Title Tectonics of Antarctica
Authors W. Hamilton
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Tectonophysics
Index ID 70010036
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse