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BSOBS Project Summary

This award, provided by the Office of Polar Programs of the National Science Foundation, supports research to investigate the seismicity and tectonics of the South Shetland Arc and the Bransfield Strait. This region presents an intriguing and unique tectonic setting, with slowing of subduction, cessation of island arc volcanism, as well as the apparent onset of backarc rifting occurring within the last four million years. This project will carry out a 5-month deployment of 14 ocean bottom seismographs (OBS) to complement and extend a deployment of 6 broadband land seismic stations that were successfully installed during early 1997. The OBSs include 2 instruments with broadband sensors, and all have flowmeters for measuring and sampling hydrothermal fluids. The OBSs will be used to examine many of the characteristics of the Shetland- Bransfield tectonic system, including:

  • The existence and depth of penetration of a Shetland Slab: The existence of a downgoing Shetland slab will be determined from earthquake locations and from seismic tomography. The maximum depth of earthquake activity and the depth of the slab velocity anomaly will constrain the current configuration of the slab, and may help clarify the relationship between the subducting slab and the cessation of arc volcanism. -- Shallow Shetland trench seismicity?: No teleseismic shallow thrust faulting seismicity has been observed along the South Shetland Trench from available seismic information. Using the OBS data, the level of small earthquake activity along the shallow thrust zone will be determined and compared to other regions undergoing slow subduction of young oceanic lithosphere, such as Cascadia, which also generally shows very low levels of thrust zone seismicity.
  • Mode of deformation along the Bransfield Rift: The Bransfield backarc has an active rift in the center, but there is considerable evidence for off-rift faulting. There is a long-standing controversy about whet her back-arc extension occurs along discrete rift zones, or is more diffuse geographically. This project will accurately locate small earthquakes to better determine whether Bransfield extension is discrete or diffuse.
  • Identification of volcanism and hydrothermal activity: Seismic records will be used to identify the locations of active seafloor volcanism along the Bransfield rift. Flowmeters attached to the OBSs will record and sample the fluid flux out of the sediments.
  • Upper mantle structure of the Bransfield - evidence for partial melting?: Other backarc basins show very slow upper mantle seismic velocities and high seismic attenuation, characteristics due to the presence of partially molten material. This project will use seismic tomography to resolve the upper mantle structure of the Bransfield backarc, allowing comparison with other backarc regions and placing constraints on the existence of partially molten material and the importance of partial melting as a mantle process in this region.


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This project was funded by the NSF Office of Polar Programs

Revised: February 27, 2002