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East Antarctic rifting triggers uplift of the Gamburtsev Mountains

The Gamburtsev Subglacial Mountains are completely buried beneath the East Antarctic Ice Sheet and consequently their origin has remained a mystery since their first discovery 50 years ago. During the International Polar Year, seven nations pooled their resources to carry out the AGAP project aimed at understanding how youthful looking mountains that resemble the European Alps could have formed in the middle of an apparently stable Precambrian craton. Our aeorogeophysical results indicate that a unique combination of processes led to the formation and uplift of the Gamburtsevs mountains.

About a billion years ago a thick root formed beneath the Gamburtsev Province as a mosaic of plates collided to form the core of East Antarctica. One of largest rift systems in the world that extends for over 3,000 km from India to central East Antarctica provided the tectonic trigger to uplift the Gamburtsev Mountains in two phases about 250 and 100 Ma ago. The billion-year-old root was rejuvaneted during the rifting processes and helped uplift the range.Finally, fluvial and glacial erosion cut deep valleys and helped uplift the peaks prior to 14 Ma ago.

This research is an important contribution to our understanding of Antarctic tectonics with a number of important wider implications, such as deciphering mountain-building processes in continental interiors and their effects. Not the least of these is a new framework for modelling the onset of widespread East Antarctic glaciation atop of the Gamburtsevs ~34 million years ago.

The exploration of the Gamburtsevs captured the attention of the world’s media and public with over 150 news items worldwide and 1.5 million hits in just one day on the BBC News website that covered the story.

Link to the full paper in the NERC Open Research Archive


Ferraccioli, Fausto; Finn, Carol A.; Jordan, Tom; Bell, Robin E.; Anderson, Lester; Damaske, Detlef.


Nature, 479 (7373). 388-392