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E302: The Earth beneath the ice: lithospheric architecture and dynamic topography in Antarctica (Lead Supervisor: Fausto Ferraccioli, NERC/British Antarctic Survey)

Supervisors: Fausto Ferraccioli (British Antarctic Survey) and Nicky White (Earth Sciences)

Importance of the area of research:

Antarctica is a key element in the global supercontinental cycle since Precambrian times. Despite the importance of Antarctica in the global Earth system, efforts to comprehend the geodynamic processes that shaped the evolution of Antarctica have been mostly regional in scope. Our understanding of the effects of dynamic topography in Antarctica is also still in an infancy stage compared to most other continents, in spite of its likely influence on the evolution of topographic and tectonic features, such as the Transantarctic Mountains, the Gamburtsev Subglacial Mountains and the huge intraplate subglacial basins that characterise both West and East Antarctica. Here we propose to analyse state of the art continental-scale gravity and magnetic data compilations together with satellite gravity gradient, magnetic and seismological data, and exploit 3D modelling advances to better constrain crustal and lithospheric architecture at continental-to supercontinental-scale, and assess the variability in dynamic topography effects on the Antarctic plate.

Project summary:

This project aims to transform our knowledge of Antarctica by providing novel geophysical interpretations of crustal and lithospheric architecture and modelling the space-time evolution of dynamic topography, which is hypothesised here to have played a key role in the evolution of major intraplate features. By achieving this, the project will help determine linkages between Antarctica and the supercontinental cycle, better constrain paleotopgraphy and large-scale boundary conditions for the overlying ice sheets, and lead to comprehensive assessments of the effects of dynamic topography on the Antarctic continent. 

What the student will do:

The student will help analyse and model recent Antarctic geophysical data compilations. These include the latest international gravity data compilation that now covers 73% of Antarctica (Scheinert et al., 2016). The student will also exploit the latest magnetic data compilations that includes almost 2 Ml line km of new aeromagnetic data. The compilations will be augmented by new datasets collected as part of major ongoing aerogeophysical exploration over the South Pole and Princess Elizabeth Land. The potential field data interpretation will include the development of novel 2D and 3D modelling targeting crustal and lithospheric architecture, complemented by seismic constraints where available (An et al., 2015). Satellite gravity gradient and Swarm magnetic data will assist in lithospheric modelling. The student will also use global seismological and mantle flow models and analyses of subglacial topography to reconstruct the evolution and impact of dynamic topography. 

Please contact the lead supervisor directly for further information relating to what the successful applicant will be expected to do, training to be provided, and any specific educational background requirements.


Ferraccioli, F., Finn, C.A., Jordan, T.A., Bell, R.E., Anderson, L.M., Damaske, D. 2011. East Antarctic rifting triggers uplift of the Gamburtsev Mountains. Nature, 479, 388-392.

Scheinert, M., Ferraccioli, F., and 13 others 2016. New Antarctic gravity anomaly grid for enhanced geodetic and geophysical studies. Geophys. Res. Lett., 43, 600–610, doi:10.1002/2015GL067439.

 An, M., D. A. Wiens, Y. Zhao, M. Feng, A. A. Nyblade, M. Kanao, Y. Li, A. Maggi, nd J.-J. Lvque 2015. S-velocity model and inferred Moho topography beneath the Antarctic Plate from Rayleigh waves, J. Geophys. Res., 120 (2014JB011332), 359–383, doi: 10.1002/2014JB011332.

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