Tectonic History of the Transantarctic Mountains

What Are They Doing?

Seismic station on the iceSeismic station on the ice Antarctica plays a central role in global tectonic evolution. Competing theories have been put forward to explain the formation of the Transantarctic Mountains (TAMs) and the Wilkes Subglacial Basin (WSB), primarily due to a lack of information on the crustal thickness and seismic velocity of the areas. The research team attempts to resolve how the TAMs and WSB originated and how their formation relates to Antarctica’s geologic history. Since most of Antarctica is covered by large ice sheets, direct geologic observations cannot be made; therefore, “remote sensing” methods like seismology must be used to determine details about the earth structure.

The goal of this project, funded by the National Science Foundation, was to broaden our knowledge of the geology in this region with a new seismic project; the Transantarctic Mountains Northern Network (TAMNNET), a 15-station array across the northern TAMs and the WSB that will fill a major gap in seismic coverage. Data from TAMNNET was combined with that from previous and ongoing seismic initiatives and was analyzed to generate an image of the seismic structure beneath the TAMs and the WSB.

While in the field, the team spent most of their time deploying seismic stations that compose the new TAMNNET array. This included loading equipment onto small airplanes, flying to remote field locations, digging large holes in the snow/ice to shelter the equipment, and assembling and testing the seismic hardware.

Where Are They?

View of the Transantarctic MountainsView of the Transantarctic Mountains The field project was based at McMurdo Station and at the Italian Terra Nova station, Mario Zuchelli. Seismic stations were located at remote sites across the northern Transantarctic Mountains and onto the East Antarctic plateau. Once in Antarctica, the field locations were reached either via helicopter or fixed wing Twin Otter Aircraft. The field team shared dormitory housing. Fieldwork was conducted outside at cold and (in some cases) fairly high altitude conditions.

Expedition Map


As my Antarctica adventure draws to an end, I'm left not only with sadness that the experience has concluded, but also an ememces amount of gratitude. Through the efforts of the PolarTREC organization and Dr. Samantha Hansen, my experiences superseded that of my childhood imagination. Not only was I able to participate first hand in seismological research, I was able to experience the culture of the most unexplored continent. When we first arrived at McMurdo base I was surprised at the grandeur. I didn't expect to be living with roughly 200 of the world’s top scientists and 800 critical...
In many ways the Italian base, Terra Nova, is similar to McMurdo. There are a lot of politics and waiting for weather. When we first arrived, we started installing stations immediately; it looked as if we were going to finish ahead of schedule. Then, numerous weather delays and communication issues with McMurdo forced us into completing as many sites as possible when the weather cleared. This however has left us with many days off and little to do to pass the time. While in the field, the use of the helicopters and the beautiful scenery made our job much more interesting and enjoyable. We had...
After my first helicopter ride where we landed in the middle of a glacier, I was truly able to witness the majesty of Antarctica. Taking in the spectacular scenery I didn’t see how my day could get any better. Just when I thought I experienced all that I could have asked for, we got the call from Terra Nova Base with the news that we all had been silently wishing for. The word was we could stop at the Emperor penguin nursery. What was already an amazing day, turned into one of the best days of my life. Having the opportunity to see these stunning creatures in their natural habitat, in the...
Being involved in the Italian Helo Ops project has been an opportunity of a lifetime. Using the helicopters during the installs was just icing on the cake. The nature of the helicopter offers better views than the airplanes because of the lower speed and larger windows. Getting right next to cliffs and flying low over a ridge is the stuff of movies, but now I was experiencing this first hand. Even though we did not have many flights using the helicopters, when we did use them it happened to be the most spectacular sites of the journey. Currently, the installs are going substantially faster...
We finally received a call that we will fly again. Fortunately, because of the rotation it was my turn to venture out into the field. It just so happened that site 12 is a blue glacial ice site. I was thrilled and excited to see a new piece of Antarctica. When we arrived we circled for a good landing site. The first place was straight ice and no snow. All the other sites were bumpy with snow so the pilots opted for the straight ice spot. After landing we gingerly exited the airplane to find it was as slippery as you would expect. This was a great chance to wear our crampons that we brought....

Expedition Resources

Project Information

Dates: 4 November 2012 to 27 December 2012
Location: McMurdo and Mario Zuchelli Station, Antarctica
Project Funded Title: Deciphering the Tectonic History of the Transantarctic Mountains and the Wilkes Subglacial Basin

Meet the Team

Brian DuBay's picture
Grissom Middle School
Warren, MI
United States

Wayne State University, in Detroit Michigan provided Brian’s foundation for a Bachelor of Science. Teaching high school students to embrace, appreciate, and love science seemed a logical utilization of his talents.

One of Brian’s core philosophical beliefs is that one learns the most when engaged and immersed in hands on learning. He not only reinforces this principle in his classroom, he also feels it is important to continue to learn as much as possible because ultimately, the more he learns, the more he can teach his students. In 2012 Brian was accepted by the National Science Foundation and PolarTREC to spend six weeks studying seismology in Antarctica. During this time, Brian not only fulfilled his roles as a geologist, but also conducted remote teaching with his classes. As a result of his dedication, Brian’s grant was extended and it is with great anticipation that he will return to Antarctica this year to continue working on the team’s goals.

Samantha Hansen's picture
University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa, AL
United States

Samantha Hansen is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama, where she researches fundamental earth science processes, such as mountain building, continental rifting, and craton formation. She employs a wide range of geophysical tools to analyze seismic data to investigate structure and infer associated geologic mechanisms. Over the past few years she has worked on several projects in Antarctica investigating the structure of the Transantarctic Mountains, the Gamburtsev Mountains, and the West Antarctic Rift System. She also has interests in earth science education and promoting underrepresented students in science. To read more about Dr. Hansen's work please visit her [website](http://www.as.ua.edu/geo/faculty-staff/hansen-samantha/).