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Keywords:

  • Ross Sea;
  • Marie Byrd Land;
  • Antarctica

[1] The basement rock and structures of the Ross Sea rift are exposed in coastal western Marie Byrd Land (wMBL), West Antarctica. Thinned, extended continental crust forms wMBL and the eastern Ross Sea continental shelf, where faults control the regional basin-and range-type topography at ∼20 km spacing. Onshore in the Ford Ranges and Rockefeller Mountains of wMBL, basement rocks consist of Early Paleozoic metagreywacke and migmatized equivalents, intruded by Devonian-Carboniferous and Cretaceous granitoids. Marine geophysical profiles suggest that these geological formations continue offshore to the west beneath the eastern Ross Sea, and are covered by glacial and glacial marine sediments. Airborne gravity and radar soundings over wMBL indicate a thicker crust and smoother basement inland to the north and east of the northern Ford Ranges. A migmatite complex near this transition, exhumed from mid crustal depths between 100–94 Ma, suggests a profound crustal discontinuity near the inboard limit of extended crust, ∼300 km northeast of the eastern Ross Sea margin. Near this limit, aeromagnetic mapping reveals an extensive region of high amplitude anomalies east of the Ford ranges that can be interpreted as a sub ice volcanic province. Modeling of gravity data suggests that extended crust in the eastern Ross Sea and wMBL is 8–9 km thinner than interior MBL (β = 1.35). Gravity modeling also outlines extensive regions of low-density (2300–2500 kg m−3) buried basement rock that is lighter than rock exposed at the surface. These regions are interpreted as bounded by throughgoing east-west faults with vertical separation. These buried low-density rocks are possibly a low-density facies of Early Paleozoic metagreywacke, or the low-density epizonal facies of Cretaceous granites, or felsic volcanic rocks known from moraines. These geophysical features and structures on land in the wMBL region preserve the record of middle and Late Cretaceous development of the Ross Sea rift. Thermochronology data from basement rocks and offshore stratigraphy suggest that the wMBL rift margin formed and most extension occurred in mid- and Late Cretaceous time, before seafloor spreading initiated between wMBL and the Campbell Plateau. The Cretaceous tectonic record in wMBL contrasts with the Transantarctic Mountains that form the western rift margin, where significant rift-flank relief developed in middle Tertiary time.