You may think the days of settlers exploring the frontier are long gone, but one frontier could hold the key to how the continents have come to be and where they may be headed in the future. Antarctica is bigger than the United States and Europe combined, and yet we still know very little about its geology. Parts of the continent are nearly 4 billion years old, but much of it remains difficult to study because only about 2 percent of it is exposed through the thick layers of snow and ice.
The continent was once part of an ancient supercontinent called Rodinia that formed about 1 billion years ago and since then has been a key piece in the younger supercontinents called Pangea and Gondwana. Rock samples that our Antarctic expedition collected are one of the few ways we can build a better picture of the continent hidden beneath the polar ice cap and give us a window into how continents started, formed and evolved over time. With your help, we believe we can redraw the conventional maps of these ancient supercontinents.
The in-depth study of Antarctica gives us more insight into the Earth’s past, allowing scientists to build a complete history of the planet and draw the maps of ancient supercontinents like Rodinia. Many of the major changes in the growth and breakup of supercontinents are correlated with evolution and chemistry of seawater, sea level and climate shifts. This knowledge of Antarctica and its relationship to other continents also gives us more understanding of what material the ice cap in Antarctica is built on and how stable that ice is. This information is further useful for those doing research on climate models in analyzing Earth’s current climate change.
Thus far, our research team has amassed a large collection of samples from our expedition to the Arctic. But the process of fully analyzing the samples is very expensive. Because these samples from remote regions of Antartica were so difficult to gather, it’s important that we get as much information as possible out of them. Your donation would help us do gather significant data on the rock samples that would not otherwise be possible.
John Goodge teaches geology at the University of Minnesota in Duluth. He taught at Southern Methodist University in Dallas before moving to UMD, where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in petrology, tectonics, and general earth science.
John’s main research interest is in tectonic evolution of the continents — how continental crust is generated, how it is deformed, how it is transformed during metamorphism, and the rates at which these processes operate. He is particularly interested in the growth of continents over time, the formation of mountain belts, and the assembly and breakup of supercontinents.
The tectonic evolution of Antarctica, which represents the last frontier of continental geology, presents very exciting research opportunities. Goodge has focused on two key problems — formation and evolution of the continental crust of East Antarctica, one of Earth’s oldest continents (up to about 3.8 billion years old), and development of the Ross Orogen mountain belt (active about 500 million years ago).