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Gravity constraints on structure of the East-West Antarctic lithospheric transition zone

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posted on 05.08.2021, 05:14 by Treweek, Sam

The differing structural evolution of cratonic East Antarctica and younger West Antarctica has resulted in contrasting lithospheric and asthenospheric mantle viscosities between the two regions. Combined with poor constraints on the upper mantle viscosity structure of the continent, estimates of surface uplift in Antarctica predicted from models of glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA) and observed by Global Satellite Navigation System (GNSS) contain large misfits. This thesis presents a gravity study ofthe lithospheric transition zone beneath the Taylor Valley, Antarctica, conducted to constrain the variation in lithological parameters such as viscosity and density of the upper mantle across this region.

During this study 119 new gravity observations were collected in the ice-free regions of the Taylor Valley and amalgamated with 154 existing land-based gravity observations, analysed alongside aerogravity measurements of southern Victoria Land. Gravity data are used to construct 2D gravity models of the subsurface beneath this region. An eastward gradient in Bouguer anomalies of ~- 1.6 mGal/km is observed within the Taylor Valley. Models reveal thickening of the Moho from 23±5 km beneath the Ross Sea to 35±5 km in the Polar Plateau (dipping at 24.5±7.2°), and lithospheric mantle 100 km thicker in East Antarctica (~200±30 km) than West Antarctica (~90±30 km).

Models of predicted surface uplift history are used to estimate an asthenospheric mantle viscosity of 2.1x1020 Pa.s at full surface recovery beneath the Ross Embayment, differing by ~14% from the viscosity at 50% recovery. The temperature contrast between lithospheric and asthenospheric mantle is estimated as ~400°C, equivalent to a viscosity that decreases by a factor of about 30 over the mantle boundary.

Results demonstrate that the history of surface uplift in the study area may be complicated, resulting in observations of uplift, or subsidence, at GNSS stations. Future work should incorporate additional geophysical methods, such as seismicity and electrical resistivity, improving constraints on gravity models. A better understanding of the surface uplift (or subsidence) history in the Transantarctic Mountains is critical, with implications in reducing uncertainty in GIA models.


Advisor 1

Stern, Tim

Copyright Date


Date of Award



Victoria University of Wellington - Te Herenga Waka

Rights License

CC BY-SA 4.0

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Victoria University of Wellington - Te Herenga Waka

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Science

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences