Geology and Geophysics team

Our ambition

Is to understand the geological structure and tectonic evolution of the Antarctic continent to generate new knowledge about its key role in the evolution of the Earth System itself. Our aim is to use state of the art technologies to explore both the landscape and the deeper structure of Earth hidden beneath the thick ice sheets that cover more than 99% of Antarctica. By achieving this we will produce new geological and geophysical maps and improve models and simulations of key geological processes such as mountain building, basin formation, magmatism and crustal growth.

Geologist working on a rock outcrop on the Black Coast, Antarctica
Geologist working on a rock outcrop on the Black Coast, Antarctica

We work collaboratively with national and international partners to deploy a combination of airborne and marine geophysics, spectral remote sensing, field mapping and geochemistry and geochronology to improve our understanding of the geological evolution of Antarctica and its super-continental linkages. Combining this with results from global geological studies we can interpret the role of Antarctica in the breakup of the Gondwana supercontinent as well as the assembly of earlier supercontinents, such as Rodinia and Columbia. Understanding Antarctic geology is also critical for comprehending the internal factors affecting ice flow dynamics and long-term ice sheet stability, in addition to climate and ocean processes. Our research provides unprecedented insights into the structure and evolution of interior East Antarctica and on the fundamental tectonic boundary between East and West Antarctica.

Team priorities



  • Geochemical evolution of the Antarctic Peninsula magmatic system. Investigate the Earth’s crustal growth processes through studies of the Antarctic Peninsula as the southern continuation of the Andean Pacific margin
  • Geological and geophysical mapping of British Antarctic Territory. Develop a critical base-line for understanding and investigating Antarctica


  • Unveiling the South Pole Frontier. Assemble a new multinational and multidisciplinary team to explore one of last frontiers on Earth – the South Pole region south of 83⁰S to provide unprecedented insights into the structure and evolution of interior East Antarctica and the fundamental tectonic boundary between East and West Antarctica. The new gravity, magnetic, radar and ice surface datasets we will collect over the South Pole Frontier are urgently needed for global satellite gravity field determination, satellite magnetic studies and satellite altimetry missions
  • Revealing the mosaic of East Antarctica. To understand the different geological provinces, and some of the oldest rocks on the planet that are covered by the vast East Antarctic Ice sheet covers. Once thought to be a more or less homogeneous block, ground breaking geophysical exploration is revealing that the interior of East Antarctica is instead a complex mosaic of different geological provinces. Unique opportunities to comprehend the linkages between East Antarctica and ancient (Precambrian) supercontinents like Rodinia and Columbia are beginning to emerge. Comprehending how subglacial geology and geothermal heat flux may affect the largest ice sheet remaining on Earth is also a key priority.
  • Evolution of the West Antarctic and Weddell Sea Rift systems. To investigate and create new knowledge about the evolution of crustal and mantle processes that heralded the break-up of Gondwana. The West Antarctic Rift System is one of the largest and yet least understood continental rift systems on the planet. It is particularly critical as it forms the lithospheric cradle for several rapidly changing and potentially more unstable sectors of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The Weddell Sea Rift System underlies the Ronne and Fichner Ice shelves that buttress both the West and East Antarctic ice sheets.

 Technology, innovation and training

  • Airborne gravity, magnetic and radar provide the key tools we use for geophysical exploration of the ice covered Antarctic interior
  • Provide the broader geosciences community with critical new gravity, magnetic, radar and ice surface datasets over the South Pole region that are urgently required for global satellite gravity (GOCE) field determination, satellite magnetic studies (SWARM) and satellite altimetry missions (Cryosat-2)
  • State of the art geochemical analysis and dating is coupled with field based geological exploration and mapping to provide the most complete geological picture to date
  • Using and developing spectral remote sensing methods to map lithology and the target detection of minerals
  • Continued commitment to post graduate training through NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships and direct collaboration

Influencing and leading international programmes

  • Ongoing track record of successful exploration of remote and hostile frontier regions through major international collaborations such as the AGAP project over the Gamburtsev Subglacial Mountains
  • Play a key role in international projects compiling gravity (Ant-GP), magnetic (ADMAP2), and topographic (BEDMAP2) geophysical data for public release
  • Developing an international programme (with Greenland Geological Survey) to identify critical metals using spectral remote sensing

Stakeholder & public engagement

  • Producing new geological maps of British Antarctic Territory is part of our commitment to one of our key stakeholders, the FCO
  • Provision of geological and geophysical data sets to the wider scientific community
  • Publicising and explaining our scientific advances through the BAS Communications Team
  • Enthusing next generation of Antarctic explorers & scientist through outreach activities such as the Lyme Regis Fossil festival
  • Training early career researchers through master/PhD studentships in partnership with major UK Universities, post-Docs & EU fellowships, such as the Horizon 2020 Marie Curie scheme

Alex Burton-Johnson

Field Geologist


Fausto Ferraccioli

Science Leader


Tom Jordan

Aerogroup Gravity


Teal Riley

Survey Geologist


The ICEGRAV project is a major international collaboration between Danish, US, UK, Norwegian and Argentinian scientists. The primary aim of the project is to carry our airborne gravity observations across …


Antarctica is a pivotal component of the global climatic system however it remains the least known continent on Earth from a geological view point. Geothermal heat flow depends on several …


GOCE+Antarctica- Dynamic Antarctic Lithosphere -is an international project supported by the European Space Agency (ESA) that is using GOCE satellite gravity gradient data, GPS data and innovative 3D modelling to …


The polar regions have the capacity to amaze and astound, but despite the considerable progress of recent decades we still know far less about them than less remote parts of …

Detecting rare earth elements with remote sensing

Rare earth elements (REEs) are a group of naturally occurring, chemically similar elements present in the Earth’s crust. Over the past decades these elements have become increasingly critical to many …

Geological mapping of British Antarctic Territory

Geological maps remain the most effective method of communicating large amounts of geological information. An ongoing project to compile over 50 years of geological field data into new geological maps …

Deep channels link ocean to Antarctic glacier

9 September, 2020

Newly discovered deep seabed channels beneath Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica may be the pathway for warm ocean water to melt the underside of the ice.  Data from two research …

Discovery of high geothermal heat at South Pole

14 November, 2018

Scientists have discovered an area near the South Pole where the base of the Antarctic Ice Sheet is melting unexpectedly quickly. Using radar to look through three km of ice, …

New magnetic anomaly map helps unveil Antarctica

17 July, 2018

The most comprehensive magnetic map of Antarctica ever produced is published this week (15 July 2018). The new map – which includes 3.5 million line-kilometres of magnetic anomaly data collected …

New Antarctic heat map reveals sub-ice hotspots

13 November, 2017

An international team of scientists, led by British Antarctic Survey (BAS), has produced a new map showing how much heat from the Earth’s interior is reaching the base of the …

FEATURED PAPER: Modelling Gondwana break-up

17 November, 2016

Gondwana break-up changed the global continental configuration, leading to the opening of major oceanic gateways, shifts in the climate system and significant impacts on the biosphere, hydrosphere and cryosphere. Although …

PRESS RELEASE: New season – ambitious science

23 November, 2015

New season tackles ambitious science and logistical challenges The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) 2015/16 field season is underway with dozens of scientists and support staff – together with planes and tonnes …

NEWS STORY: Mountains frozen in time

19 November, 2014

Antarctic “ghost mountains” preserved by ice sheet A new study reveals how the rugged ridgelines of East Antarctica’s ancient and mysterious ‘ghost mountains’ have been preserved for millions of years …

NEWS STORY: Geology under the ice

11 April, 2014

An international research team has generated the first comprehensive map of geology beneath the East Antarctic Ice Sheet that will help to understand long-term changes in the largest ice sheet …

NEWS STORY: Airborne geophysics in the Antarctic

27 January, 2014

In this month’s International Innovation journal Dr Fausto Ferraccioli discusses how airborne geophysics can be used to uncover the geology of Antarctica and explore some of the Earth’s final frontiers. …

NEWS STORY: Giant trench under Antarctic Ice

15 January, 2014

What lies beneath – scientists discover giant trench under Antarctic Ice A massive ancient subglacial trough — deeper than the Grand Canyon — has been discovered by a team of …

NEWS STORY: Mapping Antarctica’s last frontier

13 December, 2013

Mapping of remote Antarctic frontier will help model its reaction to climate change and unlock secrets of Earth’s ancient supercontinents. For the first time scientists have begun mapping one of …

NEWS STORY: Earthquakes strike Scotia Sea

18 November, 2013

Series of large earthquakes in Scotia Sea close to South Orkney Islands A series of earthquakes has been detected in the Scotia Sea region close to the British Antarctic Survey’s …

PRESS RELEASE: Secrets of hidden rift valley

25 July, 2012

Hidden rift valley discovered beneath West Antarctica reveals new insight into accelerating ice loss Scientists have discovered a one mile deep rift valley hidden beneath the ice in West Antarctica, …

PRESS RELEASE: Buried mountain range mapped

16 November, 2011

Gamburtsev Mountains enigma unraveled in interior East Antarctica The birth of the Gamburtsev Subglacial Mountains buried beneath the vast East Antarctic Ice Sheet — a puzzle mystifying scientists since their …

PRESS RELEASE: Underwater volcanoes discovered

11 July, 2011

Underwater Antarctic volcanoes discovered in the Southern Ocean Scientists from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have discovered previously unknown volcanoes in the ocean waters around the remote South Sandwich Islands. Using …

PRESS RELEASE: New discovery from “ghost mountains”

3 March, 2011

Ice structures found among hidden Antarctic mountains The discovery of numerous large ice structures within Antarctica’s Dome A region, the site of the buried ‘ghost mountains’, reveals new understanding about …

PRESS RELEASE: Mission to buried mountain range

13 October, 2008

Challenge to discover Antarctica”s hidden world Later this month teams of scientists, engineers, pilots and support staff from British Antarctic Survey (BAS), USA, Germany, Australia, China and Japan will join …

ANTARCTIC BLOG: Science from the air #5

26 January, 2016 by Tom Jordan

Wrapping up I have started several of my blog posts saying I am writing in various odd/unusual/uncomfortable locations…the back of a Twin Otter, or in a mountain tent high on …

ANTARCTIC BLOG: Science from the air #1

7 December, 2015 by Tom Jordan

Tom Jordan is part of the PolarGAP project, an ambitious international collaboration which will use airborne geophysics to explore one of the last known frontiers on our planet – the …

Revealing the former bed of Thwaites Glacier using sea-floor bathymetry: implications for warm-water routing and bed controls on ice flow and buttressing

9 September, 2020 by Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand, James Smith, James Kirkham, Kelly Hogan, Robert Arthern, Robert Larter, Tom Jordan

The geometry of the sea floor immediately beyond Antarctica's marine-terminating glaciers is a fundamental control on warm-water routing, but it also describes former topographic pinning points that have been important…

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