The role of Antarctica in the development of plate tectonic theories: from Scott to the present

One hundred years of geological research in and around Antarctica since Scott's Discovery expedition of 1901-1904 have seen the continent move from a great unknown at the margins of human knowledge to centre stage in the development of plate tectonics, continental break-up and global climate evolution. Research in Antarctica has helped make the Gondwana supercontinent a scientific fact. Discoveries offshore have provided some of the key evidence for plate tectonics and extended the evidence of global glaciation back over 30 million years. Studies of Antarctica's tectonic evolution have helped elucidate the details of continental break-up, and the continent continues to provide the best testing ground for competing scientific models. Antarctica's deep past has provided support for the "Snowball Earth" hypothesis, and for the pre-Gondwana, Rodinia supercontinent. Current research is focusing on Antarctica's subglacial lakes and basins, the possible causes of Antarctic glaciation, the evolution of its surrounding oceanic and mantle gateways, and its sub-ice geological composition and structure. None of this would have been possible without maps, and these have provided the foundation stone for Antarctic research. New mapping and scientific techniques, and new research platforms hold great promise for further major contributions from Antarctica to Earth system science in the twenty-first century.


Publication status:
Authors: Thomson, M.R.A., Vaughan, Alan P.M.

1 January, 2005
Archives of Natural History / 32