Lateral Isotopic Discontinuity in the Lower Crust: An Example from Antarctica

Science  04 Sep 1987:
Vol. 237, Issue 4819, pp. 1192-1195
DOI: 10.1126/science.237.4819.1192


The lower continental crust is one of the least known variables in the crust-mantle evolutionary equation. In order to study the nature and compositional heterogeneity of the lower crust, more than 20 inclusions of lower crustal granulites in volcanic rocks from the McMurdo Sound region of Antarctica were analyzed for strontium and oxygen isotopes. These inclusions were erupted from volcanic centers covering an area of 12,000 square kilometers. Along with results from analyses of major and trace elements, the isotopic data reveal a profound discontinuity in the composition and probably the age of the lower crust that coincides with the boundary between the Transantarctic Mountains and the Ross Embayment. Although this topographic boundary between East and West Antarctica is largely a Cenozoic development, which apparently reflects a simple subvertical faulting relationship due to crustal rifting, the isotopic differences in the lower crust across the boundary suggest that the current faulting and rifting may coincide with an older crustal suture, the age of which is uncertain.