feldspar, labadorite, metamorphic, rock, Larsemann Hills, Antarctica, garnet biotite gneiss, geology, geologist, blog, adventure, exploring the earth

Antarctica Rocks!

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High resolution image of Antarctica (CCIN, UWaterloo, 2014)

Intro: One day hopefully, I will get there… but for now, I am starting this post with the truth. No, I have not been to Antarctica (yet!), but by a random chance of events I find myself the owner of a collection of rocks from Antarctica.

Antarctica, image, map, plan, ice sheet, ice, extent, blog, adventure, geology, geomorphology, rocksHow? Well, long story short, on the plane ride to the gold mine I am researching I was sitting beside a mechanical worker who used to live in Tasmania and work in Antarctica. After talking about geology and finding out I live in Tassie, he turned out to be quite the rock hound and his wife and him where moving houses and were going to throw away all his old rocks he randomly grabbed during his years working in Antarctica. Thus, I gladly offered to take them off his hands. And yes, I find myself the new owner of a collection of rocks from the great southern land. Most of the rocks were picked up around the Australian Antarctica stations in the 1990’s (apparently it’s illegal to take rocks from the continent now…). So, here is a quick blog on some awesome Antarctica rocks, and a brief introduction to the geological history of the great southern continent.

Science Spiel: What lies beneath the ice (Geology, Geomorphology)

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The supercontinent of Gondwana when Antarctica and Australia were together, and the approximate time of seperation (NSW dep. of ed., 2008)

Antarctica’s surface is 98% covered with ice, so the geological history is still incomplete. Rocks of the ancient Antarctica bedrock have been dated to ~ 4 billion years ago (bya), and it was once near the equator and beaming with warm-climate animals and plants such as those found on Tasmania and the rest of Australia. This can be traced back to the supercontinent of Gondwana ~400 million years ago (mya), which coupled many of the current continents such as Africa and India together until plate tectonics slowly drifted these lands apart ~130 mya. One of the last continents to go was Australia (along with Tasmania, my current home), which completely separating only ~45 mya (Coleman, 1980; Kennett, 1980; Exon et al., 1997; Jacob and Dyment, 2014).

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Map of Antarctica with locations of Australian research stations Davis and Mawson, the Transantarctic Mountains, and Tasmania.

Antarctica is geographically divided by the Transantarctic Mountains; one of the longest mountain chains in the world. The area where my rocks are from is the east, near the Amery Ice Field and the Australian stations of Davis and Mawson. Around these stations are the Prince Charles Mountains, Vestfold Hills and Larsemann Hills, which are some of the most significant ice-free areas in Antarctica. Because I’m not sure the exact outcrop my rocks are from, I will just show some of them grouped by area, and a brief description on what they are/where they are from!

Most of the rocks are metamorphic rocks, formed by high temperatures and pressures. They belong to the granulite and amphibolites metamorphic facies.

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Metamorphic rocks facies depend on temperature and pressure conditions of formation

My first set of rocks is from the Larsemann Hills. The Larsemann Hills underwent low pressure high temperate granulite facies metamorphism ~1.1 bya (Stuwe et al., 1989). I have several beautiful examples of felsic garnetbiotite-quartz-magnetite schist. Other rocks from the Larsemann Hills include a K-feldspar pegmatite, and a pale blue, greasy rutilated blue quartz sample (thank you to David Corrigan from the GSC for the identification help with this one). And lastly, I have copper! An ultramafic olivine-rich rock with pale green copper oxide staining…

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garnet-biotite-quartz-magnetite schist- Larsemann Hills, Antarctica

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garnet-biotite-feldspar-quartz gneiss- Larsemann Hills, Antarctica

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Pale blue, greasy rutilated blue quartz from Larsemann Hills, Antarctica. Thanks to David Corrigan from the GSC for the identification help.

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K-feldspar pegmatite – Larsemann Hills, Antarctica

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Copper oxide staining on ultramafic rock – Larsemann Hills, Antarctica

Northeast of Larsemann Hills are the Vestfold Hills. The Vestfold Hills are only 100 km away, but they are rougly 1.5 billion years older than the Larsemann Hills, with some age dates putting them in the Archean geological period >2.5 bya (Lanyon et al. 1993). Again, this area has mostly high-grade metamorphic basement rocks and I have several samples of more garnet-biotite gneiss. Another rock that falls into my Vestfold Hills collection is a high-temperature siliceous granulite schist with sillimanite and garnet porphyroblasts. This rock is fairly similar to a khondalite, a rock that makes up a considerate part of India (Krishnan, 1968). Also in Vestfold are large euhedral magnetite chunks, and a feldspar(albite-anorthite?)-quartz pegmatite.

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garnet-feldspar-biotite-quartz gneiss – Vestfold Hills, Antarctica

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felsic garnet-sillimanite granulite – Vestfold Hills, Antarctica

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magnetite – Vestfold Hills, Antarctica

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feldspar (albite-anorthite) quartz pegmatite – Vestfold Hills, Antarctica

Lastly, I have a couple unique rocks from Mawson’s station and the Prince Charles Mountains. Mawson’s station rocks are a K-feldspar-quartz gneiss and a mylonite (a metamorphic rocks that has undergone ductile deformation due to compactation and shearing) with beautiful porphyroclasts . My lone Prince Charles Mountain rock is petrified wood.

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mylonite – Mawon’s Station, Antarctica

K-feldspar, quartz, gneiss, metamorphic, rock, Mawon's station, Mawson, Antarctica, geology, geologist, blog, adventure, exploring the earth

K-feldspar-quartz gneiss – Mawon’s Station, Antarctica

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petrified wood – Prince Charles Mountains, Antarctica

Final Thoughts:

Ah Antarctica… and being here in Tasmania I’m so close, but yet so far! It would be a dream to go there one day, but in the meantime, having a little piece of the land in my office is pretty cool. Again, I haven’t gone into the geological history too much in this post, but while Antarctica was once together with the other continents during Gondwana, it is now an isolated ancient land mass in the far south. My small collection of rocks are a testament to some of the extreme high-temperature and pressure metamorphism that took place in eastern Antarctica. Now to only find some way to convince the government or university I need to go there myself to follow up on these?! Wish me luck, haha.

-Stephanie

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14 Comments

  1. Minna

    Very Interesting , and beautiful minerals ! I need To look closely stones I have found from stockholm, my stones look like exatly same like your stones ! Is it possibly to find that kind of stones from here ? Or Are those yoy have only from that Area where To find those? – regards from sweden from no geolog woman 🙂 )

    • Thanks Minna! It is very possible that similar types of stones are found in stockholm, as the geology in the area around Stockholm has similar > 1 billion year old metamorphic rocks. The rocks I have from Antarctic are also > 1 billion year old metamorphic rocks. You can find rocks that are the same type (i.e., granite, sandstone, etc.) all over the world, but it is tricky to relate them to the same rocks on different continents unless we have good age dates for the rocks and have factored in plate tectonic reconstruction models to see if they countries were at one point connected or adjacent to one another. Hope that helps and thanks for reading and commenting, cheers 🙂

  2. David wilson

    Hello stephanie
    Have you a contact for dave cesar. I wintered with him at davis in 1990 and would like to catch up. 25 years ago this year a few of us are getting together. Cheers david wilson

    • Hi David,
      Yes I do! David Cesar was the one who gave me these beautiful Antarctica rocks after all. If you can please email me at sykorastephanie@gmail.com I will send you an email back with his contact details. Thanks for stopping by my blog, cheers!
      Stephanie

  3. David Cesar

    Excellent photographs with fantastic detail of these illegal specimens! Not to mention a very informative and concise geological study of the Great Southern Land. I would never have imagined that these rocks would attract so much attention in captivity. I wish you well in your future endeavours to go South.
    Regards The Mechanical Worker

    • Thank you David! I had fun going through the rocks and learning about Antarctica geology. Many thanks again for the specimens!! 🙂

  4. Great post Stephanie! I am currently working at Davis Station and was doing some research on what types of rocks we find around here and stumbled across your blog! Nice work!

    Last week I had the chance to travel to the Rauer Group of Islands (between the Vestfolds and the Larsemanns) and was amazed at the difference in the rocks over there! Ill have to try to get some photos to you…

    • Hi Corey,

      Thanks! I was going to ask if you are a geologist as well then I saw you blog. Great work as well! I’ll be following you to see more about your time as a mechanic in Antarctica. And yes, please do send me those (or any) rock photos, I’d love to see. As you can guess I have quite the interest in Antarctica rocks now haha. All the best, cheers!

      Stephanie

  5. Hi Stephanie
    I am currently the Station Leader at Casey Station – the only Australian Antarctic station that you don’t mention (mainly because you don’t describe any rocks from here). I am also a geologist so someone sent me the link to your blog. Terrific job!
    Alison

    • Hi Alison,
      Yes I realize the only Aussie station I missed is the Casey Station (as you noticed, because none of my rocks are from there).Must be fantastic as a geologist in Antarctica, great exposure I reckon (where there is no ice cover of course). Thank you for taking the time to stop by and reading my blog 🙂 Cheers!
      Stephanie