Recent Dynamic Activity of the Bransfield Rift: Potential Zone of High Natural Hazard in Antarctica

  • O. González-Ferrán
Part of the International Association of Geodesy Symposia book series (IAG SYMPOSIA, volume 111)


Geological and geophysical investigation of the recent block movement and volcanic eruptions confirm that the Bransfield Strait is an active rift. During Plio-Plesitocene to Recent times, extensional processes were dominant in Bransfield Strait; these resulted in the formation of a series of NE-trending normal faults, which are subparallel to the north-western margin of the Antarctic Peninsula and the opposite coast of the South Shetland Islands. About 3,500 km of regional magnetic lines have been flown over the South Shetland Islands, Bransfield Strait and part of the Antarctic Peninsula. A qualitative examination of the aeromagnetic map of Bransfield Strait reveals a well defined pattern of magnetic anomalies which is closely related to that of the normal faulting. These magnetic anomalies are interpreted as representing basic intrusions into the continental crust. The axis of the rift is defined by an offset spreading centre, with which are associated to the volcanoes of Deception, Penguin and Bridgeman Islands and a number of submarine volcanoes. The rift has opened between 5 and 15 km since its inception at the end of the Pliocene. Thus, the spreading rate can be estimated at 0.25 to 0.75 cm/year. The gravimetric measurements taken during the last decade, at Marsh Station and Punta Arenas, given a negative difference of 107 μGal (Araneda and Avendaño, 1987), have been interpreted as an uplift of the South Shetland block, due to the rift process combined with the eustatic movements. If that number means only altitud change, variation in the free-air anomaly, there would be an average in the temporary rise of about 35 cm.

Considering that the opening of Bransfield Strait and magmatism associated with rifting occurred during the last 2 Ma, and that historical activity has been recorded at Deception and Penguin Volcanoes, it can be estimated that volcanic activity along the Bransfield is still in the process of development. New eruptions, both subaerial and submarine, could be recorded in the future at any point along the rift, characterizing that region as a potential zone of high Natural Hazard.

At present, the concentration of ten permanent scientific stations on King George Island, South Shetland Islands, contitutes one of the highest volcano-tectonic risk zone of all the Antarctic Continent. We must remember the eruptions of 1967, 1969 and 1970, and the earthquake, Ms 7.0 of February 8, 1971.


Volcanic Activity Southern Ocean Magnetic Anomaly Rift Zone Antarctic Peninsula 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • O. González-Ferrán
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Geology and GeophysicsUniversidad de ChileChile

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