In 1994, the ACRUP (Antarctic Crustal Profile) project recorded a 670-km-long geophysical transect across the southern Ross Sea to study the velocity and density structure of the crust and uppermost mantle of the West Antarctic rift system. Ray-trace modeling of P- and S-waves recorded on 47 ocean bottom seismograph (OBS) records, with strong seismic arrivals from airgun shots to distances of up to 120 km, show that crustal velocities and geometries vary significantly along the transect. The three major sedimentary basins (early-rift grabens), the Victoria Land Basin, the Central Trough and the Eastern Basin are underlain by highly extended crust and shallow mantle (minimum depth of about 16 km). Beneath the adjacent basement highs, Coulman High and Central High, Moho deepens, and lies at a depth of 21 and 24 km, respectively. Crustal layers have P-wave velocities that range from 5.8 to 7.0 km/s and S-wave velocities from 3.6 to 4.2 km/s. A distinct reflection (PiP) is observed on numerous OBS from an intra-crustal boundary between the upper and lower crust at a depth of about 10 to 12 km. Local zones of high velocities and inferred high densities are observed and modeled in the crust under the axes of the three major sedimentary basins. These zones, which are also marked by positive gravity anomalies, may be places where mafic dikes and sills pervade the crust. We postulate that there has been differential crustal extension across the West Antarctic rift system, with greatest extension beneath the early-rift grabens. The large amount of crustal stretching below the major rift basins may reflect the existence of deep crustal suture zones which initiated in an early stage of the rifting, defined areas of crustal weakness and thereby enhanced stress focussing followed by intense crustal thinning in these areas. The ACRUP data are consistent with the prior concept that most extension and basin down-faulting occurred in the Ross Sea during late Mesozoic time, with relatively small extension, concentrated in the western half of the Ross Sea, during Cenozoic time.
Additional publication details
Transect across the West Antarctic rift system in the Ross Sea, Antarctica