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Thermochronologic and modelling test for a Mesozoic West Antarctic Plateau

This project studies formation of the TransAntarctic Mountains (TAM) through numerical modeling based on cooling histories of apatite mineral grains. The TAM are the highest and longest rift-related mountain range in the world. Various models for their uplift have been proposed, the most provocative of which is that they are not uplifted, but instead are the eroded remnant of a plateau. This project evaluates that hypothesis by collecting apatites from around Byrd Glacier for fission track thermochronology. Results will be combined with a kinematic and thermal model to determine the TAM's structural evolution. The plateau model, if correct, implies that the Byrd Glacier originated not as a glacier-carved valley through the TAM, but as a river system flowing in the opposite direction. Given that the Byrd Glacier is a key drainage for the East Antarctic ice sheet, this result has important implications for ice sheet models and interpretation of both regional geology and sediment records. The main broader impacts are undergraduate research and a new collaboration between a primarily undergraduate and a research institution. Students will be involved in the field program, sample analyses, and numerical modeling.

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