Crustal heat production and estimate of terrestrial heat flow in central East Antarctica, with implications for thermal input to the East Antarctic ice sheet
Abstract. Terrestrial heat flow is a critical first-order factor governing the thermal condition and, therefore, mechanical stability of Antarctic ice sheets, yet heat flow across Antarctica is poorly known. Previous estimates of terrestrial heat flow in East Antarctica come from inversion of seismic and magnetic geophysical data, by modeling temperature profiles in ice boreholes, and by calculation from heat production values reported for exposed bedrock. Although accurate estimates of surface heat flow are important as an input parameter for ice-sheet growth and stability models, there are no direct measurements of terrestrial heat flow in East Antarctica coupled to either subglacial sediment or bedrock. As has been done with bedrock exposed along coastal margins and in rare inland outcrops, valuable estimates of heat flow in central East Antarctica can be extrapolated from heat production determined by the geochemical composition of glacial rock clasts eroded from the continental interior. In this study, U, Th, and K concentrations in a suite of Proterozoic (1.2–2.0 Ga) granitoids sourced within the Byrd and Nimrod glacial drainages of central East Antarctica indicate average upper crustal heat production (Ho) of about 2.6 ± 1.9 µW m−3. Assuming typical mantle and lower crustal heat flux for stable continental shields, and a length scale for the distribution of heat production in the upper crust, the heat production values determined for individual samples yield estimates of surface heat flow (qo) ranging from 33 to 84 mW m−2 and an average of 48.0 ± 13.6 mW m−2. Estimates of heat production obtained for this suite of glacially sourced granitoids therefore indicate that the interior of the East Antarctic ice sheet is underlain in part by Proterozoic continental lithosphere with an average surface heat flow, providing constraints on both geodynamic history and ice-sheet stability. The ages and geothermal characteristics of the granites indicate that crust in central East Antarctica resembles that in the Proterozoic Arunta and Tennant Creek inliers of Australia but is dissimilar to other areas like the Central Australian Heat Flow Province that are characterized by anomalously high heat flow. Age variation within the sample suite indicates that central East Antarctic lithosphere is heterogeneous, yet the average heat production and heat flow of four age subgroups cluster around the group mean, indicating minor variation in the thermal contribution to the overlying ice sheet from upper crustal heat production. Despite these minor differences, ice-sheet models may favor a geologically realistic input of crustal heat flow represented by the distribution of ages and geothermal characteristics found in these glacial clasts.