The South Pole, by Roald Amundsen

Appendix III

Geology

Provisional Remarks on the Examination of the Geological Specimens Brought by Roald Amundsen’s South Polar Expedition from the Antarctic Continent (South Victoria Land and King Edward VII. Land). By J. Schetelig, Secretary of the Mineralogical Institute of Christiania University

The collection of specimens of rocks brought back by Mr. Roald Amundsen from his South Polar expedition has been sent by him to the Mineralogical Institute of the University, the Director of which, Professor W. C. Brögger, has been good enough to entrust to me the work of examining this rare and valuable material, which gives us information of the structure of hitherto untrodden regions.

Roald Amundsen himself brought back altogether about twenty specimens of various kinds of rock from Mount Betty, which lies in lat. 85° 8’ S. Lieutenant Prestrud’s expedition to King Edward VII. Land collected in all about thirty specimens from Scott’s Nunatak, which was the only mountain bare of snow that this expedition met with on its route. A number of the stones from Scott’s Nunatak were brought away because they were thickly overgrown with lichens. These specimens of lichens have been sent to the Botanical Museum of the University.

A first cursory examination of the material was enough to show that the specimens from Mount Betty and Scott’s Nunatak consist exclusively of granitic rocks and crystalline schists. There were no specimens of sedimentary rocks which, by possibly containing fossils, might have contributed to the determination of the age of these mountains. Another thing that was immediately apparent was the striking agreement that exists between the rocks from these two places, lying so far apart. The distance from Mount Betty to Scott’s Nunatak is between seven and eight degrees of latitude.

I have examined the specimens microscopically.

From Mount Betty there are several specimens of white granite, with dark and light mica; it has a great resemblance to the white granites from Sogn, the Dovre district, and Nordland, in Norway. There is one very beautiful specimen of shining white, fine-grained granite aplite, with small, pale red garnets. These granites show in their exterior no sign of pressure structure. The remaining rocks from Mount Betty are gneissic granite, partly very rich in dark mica, and gneiss (granitic schist); besides mica schist, with veins of quartz.

From Scott’s Nunatak there are also several specimens of white granite, very like those from Mount Betty. The remaining rocks from here are richer in lime and iron, and show a series of gradual transitions from micacious granite, through grano-diorite to quartz diorite, with considerable quantities of dark mica, and green hornblende. In one of the specimens the quantity of free quartz is so small that the rock is almost a quartz-free diorite. The quartz diorites are: some medium-grained, some coarse-grained (quartz-diorite-pegmatite), with streaks of black mica. The schistose rocks from Scott’s Nunatak are streaked, and, in part, very fine-grained quartz diorite schists. Mica schists do not occur among the specimens from this mountain.

Our knowledge of the geology of South Victoria Land is mainly due to Scott’s expedition of 1901 — 1904, with H. T. Ferrar as geologist, and Shackleton’s expedition of 1907 — 08, with Professor David and R. Priestley as geologists. According to the investigations of these expeditions, South Victoria Land consists of a vast, ancient complex of crystalline schists and granitic rocks, large extents of which are covered by a sandstone formation (“Beacon Sandstone,” Ferrar), on the whole horizontally bedded, which is at least 1,500 feet thick, and in which Shackleton found seams of coal and fossil wood (a coniferous tree). This, as it belongs to the Upper Devonian or Lower Carboniferous, determines a lower limit for the age of the sandstone formation. Shackleton also found in lat. 85° 15’ S. beds of limestone, which he regards as underlying and being older than the sandstone. In the limestone, which is also on the whole horizontally bedded, only radiolaria have been found. The limestone is probably of older Palæozoic age (? Silurian). It is, therefore, tolerably certain that the underlying older formation of gneisses, crystalline schists and granites, etc., is of Archæan age, and belongs to the foundation rocks.

Volcanic rocks are only found along the coast of Ross Sea and on a range of islands parallel to the coast. Shackleton did not find volcanic rocks on his ascent from the Barrier on his route towards the South Pole.

G. T. Prior, who has described the rocks collected by Scott’s expedition, gives the following as belonging to the complex of foundation rocks: gneisses, granites, diorites, banatites, and other eruptive rocks, as well as crystalline limestone, with chondrodite. Professor David and R. Priestley, the geologists of Shackleton’s expedition, refer to Ferrar’s and Prior’s description of the foundation rocks, and state that according to their own investigations the foundation rocks consist of banded gneiss, gneissic granite, grano-diorite, and diorite rich in sphene, besides coarse crystalline limestone as enclosures in the gneiss.

This list of the most important rocks belonging to the foundation series of the parts of South Victoria Land already explored agrees so closely with the rocks from Mount Betty and Scott’s Nunatak, that there can be no doubt that the latter also belong to the foundation rocks.

From the exhaustive investigations carried out by Scott’s and Shackleton’s expeditions it appears that South Victoria Land is a plateau land, consisting of a foundation platform, of great thickness and prominence, above which lie remains, of greater or less extent, of Palæozoic formations, horizontally bedded. From the specimens of rock brought home by Roald Amundsen’s expedition it is established that the plateau of foundation rocks is continued eastward to Amundsen’s route to the South Pole, and that King Edward VII. Land is probably a northern continuation, on the eastern side of Ross Sea, of the foundation rock plateau of South Victoria Land.

Christiania,

September 26, 1912.

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