Earth and Planetary Science
EPS Near-Surface Geochemistry and Geobiology

Berkeley Scientists Out at Sea in Antartica

Thursday, March 9, 2017

First year Berkeley Ph.D. student Anna Clinger (right) and former EPS postdoc Matt Fox (left) left a few days ago to go to Antartica to collect offshore sediment samples on an NSF-funded project. The research is directed by EPS Professor David Shuster aimed at studying the topography development along the Antarctic Peninsula.  Anna Clinger and Matt Fox are currently aboard the Laurence M Gould research vessel for 5 weeks collecting samples. The objective is to collect offshore sediments for detrital apatite (U-Th)/He analyses. The data that they will collect at Berkeley on these samples will constrain the timescale over which the mountainous topography along the Antarctic Peninsula formed. This project also involves Greg Balco of the Berkeley Geochronology Center. 

Since humans have observed them, the most spectacular landscapes on Earth have inspired both awe and desire to understand how they formed. Among these, the extreme mountain topographies of alpine landscapes at mid latitudes (e.g., European Alps, Patagonia, Alaska) are thought to have formed by the erosive action of glaciers, yet our understanding of exactly when and how those topographies developed is limited. If glacial ice was responsible for forming them, then those landscapes must have developed primarily over the last 2-3 million years when ice was present at those latitudes; this timing has only recently been confirmed by observations. In contrast, the Antarctic Peninsula, which contains similarly spectacular topographic relief, is known to have hosted alpine glaciers as early as 37 million years ago, and is currently covered by ice. Thus, if caused by glacial erosion, the high relief of the peninsula should have formed much earlier than what has been observed at mid latitude sites, yet we know nearly nothing about the timing of its development. The primary benefit of this research will be to study the timing of topography development along the Antarctic Peninsula by applying state of the art chemical analyses to sediments collected offshore. This research is important because studying a high latitude site will enable comparison with sites at mid latitudes and test current hypotheses on the development of glacial landscapes in general.

For more information on the Shuster Lab, please click here.