New geophysical compilations link crustal block motion to Jurassic extension and strike-slip faulting in the Weddell Sea Rift System of West Antarctica
Gondwana breakup changed the global continental configuration, leading to opening of major oceanic gateways, shifts in the climate system and significant impacts on the biosphere, hydrosphere and cryosphere. Although of global importance, the earliest stages of the supercontinental fragmentation are poorly understood. Reconstructing the processes driving Gondwana breakup within the ice-covered Weddell Sea Rift System (WSRS) has proven particularly challenging. Paleomagnetic data and tectonic reconstructions of the WSRS region indicate that major Jurassic translation and rotation of microcontinental blocks were a key precursor to Gondwana breakup by seafloor spreading. However, geophysical interpretations have provided little support for major motion of crustal blocks during Jurassic extension in the WSRS. Here we present new compilations of airborne magnetic and airborne gravity data, together with digital enhancements and 2D models, enabling us to re-evaluate the crustal architecture of the WSRS and its tectonic and kinematic evolution. Two provinces are identified within the WSRS, a northern E/W trending province and a southern N/S trending province. A simple extensional or transtensional model including ~ 500 km of crustal extension and Jurassic magmatism accounts for the observed geophysical patterns. Magmatism is linked with rifting between South Africa and East Antarctica in the north, and associated with back-arc extension in the south. Our tectonic model implies ~ 30 degrees of Jurassic block rotation and juxtaposes the magnetically similar Haag Block and Shackleton Range, despite differences in both Precambrian and Pan African-age surface geology. Although geophysically favoured our new model cannot easily be reconciled with geological and paleomagnetic interpretations that require ~ 1500 km of motion and 90 degrees anticlockwise rotation of the Haag-Ellsworth Whitmore block from a pre-rift position adjacent to the Maud Belt. However, our model provides a simpler view of the WSRS as a broad Jurassic extensional/transtensional province within a distributed plate boundary between East and West Antarctica.
Authors: Jordan, Tom, Ferraccioli, Fausto, Leat, Philip