About Our Research

National Science Foundation Award: #1443296

Research Project Title: Petrologic Constraints on Subduction Termination From Lamprophyres, Ross Orogen, Antarctica

Subduction takes place at convergent plate boundaries and involves sinking of one tectonic plate underneath another. Although this process is a key aspect of plate tectonics that shapes the planet over geologic time, and is a primary cause of earthquakes, it is not known what causes subduction to cease, and what effect it has on the deepest portions of the crust and the upper part of the mantle. By studying the age and composition of igneous rocks emplaced at the very end of the subduction cycle, this project seeks to understand what causes subduction to cease, and how this changes the composition and structure of the crust and upper mantle. Because this process occurs deep within the earth, the project will focus on rocks in the root of an ancient subduction zone, now exposed in the Transantarctic Mountains of Antarctica. In addition, Antarctica remains relatively poorly understood, and this project will contribute directly to increasing our understanding of the geologic history of this region. The project will focus on training graduate and undergraduate students – incorporating hands-on experience with an array of state-of-the-art analytical instrumentation. Students will also gain a range of more general skills including Geographic Information Systems (GIS), written and oral communication, and data management – strengths that are highly relevant to careers both in the academic and Geosciences industry. Each summer, high school students will be incorporated into aspects of the laboratory-based research through the UCSB research mentorship program. The PI and graduate students will engage the general public through a purpose-built iPhone App and multimedia website. Activities will include live phone and video conversations from the field between elementary school students and members of the team in Antarctica.

The mechanisms by which the deep crustal delaminates or “founders” and is returned to the mantle remains a fundamental problem in earth science. Specifically, little is known about the temporal and spatial scales over which this process occurs or the mechanisms that trigger such catastrophic events. Igneous rocks highly enriched in potassium, called lamprophyres, are often emplaced during, and immediately after, termination of subduction and therefore potentially provide direct insight into foundering. These enigmatic rocks are important because they represent near-primary mantle melt compositions and therefore their age, geochemistry and petrologic evolution reveal key information on both the composition of the upper mantle and its thermal state. Of equal importance, they reveal how these key parameters vary through both space and time. By evaluating lamprophyres along a subduction zone margin it is possible to extract: 1) local-scale information, such as the timing and duration of melting and the role of igneous crystallization processes in generation of isotopic heterogeneities; 2) along-strike variations in mantle source composition, temperature, and depth of melting 3) the plate-scale forces that control foundering and termination of subduction. This project will study a suite of lamprophyres along the axis of the Transantarctic Mountains, emplaced during the latest stages of the Neoproterozoic – Ordovician Ross orogeny, Antarctica (roughly 505 to 470 million years before present). High-precision geochronology (age determinations) will be combined with geochemical measurements on the rocks and minerals to understand the mechanisms and timing of deep crustal foundering/delamination.