The history of Geoscience Australia in Antarctica.
The establishment of Australia’s three Antarctic research stations enabled geologists and surveyors to continue the reconnaissance geological surveys that were necessary to establish Australia’s presence in Antarctica. In this map, the green dotted lines outline Australia's Antarctic claims.
Geologists and surveyors working for Geoscience Australia’s precursor organisations were instrumental in creating these early maps, surveys, and geological reports across the Australian Antarctic Territory.
This was a hugely challenging task. Most of Antarctica’s surface is covered by ice, so the mapping teams travelled vast distances to find exposed rocks that they could use to understand the landscape hidden beneath the ice.
In recognition of the heroic efforts of these pioneers of Antarctic mapping, many geographical features are named after them.
If you look closely, you will spot the McLeod Nunataks, named after geologist Ian McLeod.
Geographical features are also named after Antarctic surveyors, geophysicists and map makers. For example, the Manning Nunataks after surveyor John Manning; the Goodspeed Nunataks after geophysicist M. J. Goodspeed; and the Lambert Glacier after cartographer Bruce Lambert.
Geologist Dave Trail in Mac Robertson Land, near the Taylor Glacier.
The Trail Glacier and Mt Trail are two Antarctic landscape features that were named in honour of Dave's contribution to Antarctic science.
Geologist Ian McLeod, taking geological notes in Wilkes Land, eastern Antarctica.
Rocks are more frequently exposed around the coastal fringes of Antarctica, so the geologists could sometimes enjoy these beautiful views over the Southern Ocean.
The McLeod Massif, located south of Mawson Station, was named in recognition of Ian's work in Antarctica.
Geologist Robert 'Bob' Tingey collecting a sample of Antarctic rock to be shipped back to Australia for further analysis.
Bob spent seven field seasons in Antarctica, and was instrumental in the publication of the first comprehensive volume dedicated to Antarctic geology.
Geographic features in Antarctica that are named after Bob include the Tingey Glacier in the Prince Charles Mountains and the Tingey Nunataks (rocks that are exposed at the edge of glaciers).
Expeditionary field geologists in Antarctica spent months in the field, in challenging and sometimes uncomfortable conditions, so they had to be very hardy! As did their equipment. This 'polar pyramid' tent is designed to withstand blizzard conditions. The polar pyramid is still the tent used most frequently by Antarctic expeditioners.
Here, the Nella Dan has reached the edge of the fast ice north of Cape Bruce, Mac. Robertson Land. 'Fast ice' is anchored to the coastline or the sea floor. Unlike pack ice, it does not move with waves or currents.
Geologist Ian McLeod with sled dog Lewis.
Peter King and Graham Knuckey, with sled dog Lennie.
As well as making detailed field observations, geologists in Antarctica collect rock samples while out in the field. These samples help them to understand the geology of the area in greater detail. Geoscience Australia maintains a collection of rocks collected on Antarctic expeditions dating back to the 1950s.
Rocks collected from Antarctica were packed up and shipped back to Australia. On return to Australia, the rock samples were registered and then analysed by geologists to determine their composition and age. This information was then used to create maps and reports of the area.
As well as characterising rocks, Antarctic geologists collected sediment on the sea floor around Antarctica. Sediment was retrieved using specialised samplers that were lowered to the sea floor from polar vessels. Such samples are still used to understand sea floor environments, including habitats, around Antarctica.
The culmination of the research undertaken by Antarctic geologists is the geological map. This map was compiled by Bob Tingey. It incorporates information gained from many years of fieldwork done by numerous geologists and surveyors, as well as the results of laboratory work that was used to determine the age of the rocks.
Most Antarctic rocks are hidden below a thick layer of ice, so most of our knowledge of the geology comes from rocks that are exposed around the fringes of the continent.
Inland of the rocks exposed at the coastal margins, much of Antarctica remains a geological mystery.
The colours of each unit on a geological map such as this one represent different rock types. The upper case letter of the code represents the age of the rock and the lower case letters indicate the rock type. For example, the light green rock type has the code 'Mg'. The 'M' stands for 'Mesozoic', and the 'g' stands for 'granitoids'. Volcanic rocks from the Mesozoic have the code 'Mvt', and are coloured pale green with red arrows.
The ages were determined using two methods - field observations by the geologists and laboratory testing back in Australia.
This key is arranged in chronological order and includes both the age of the rocks and the rock types. As you can see here, the geology of Antarctica covers a huge age range, from the Cainozoic (this is the current geological era, more commonly called the Cenozoic) all the way back to the Archaean (older than 2.5 billion years).
Watch Geoscience Australia geologist Dr Chris Carson explain what minerals are found in the area and how these have been protected.
Antarctic geologists must take detailed, legible notes that will be understood and used by scientists long after the field research is conducted.
The National Mineral and Fossil Collection, Geoscience Australia (images and specimens).
Chris Carson Collection
Jane Black (Geoscience Australia Library)
Georgina Falster (text & editing)
Alix Post (scientific review)
Katy Buffinton (review)
Copyright for content: http://www.ga.gov.au/copyright