Marie Byrd Land

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Marie Byrd Land Antarctica, Marie Byrd Land.svg
Marie Byrd Land
Glaciers and rock outcrops in Marie Byrd Land seen from NASA's DC-8 aircraft on October 17, 2011 Marie Byrd Land, West Antarctica by NASA.jpg
Glaciers and rock outcrops in Marie Byrd Land seen from NASA's DC-8 aircraft on October 17, 2011

Marie Byrd Land is the portion of West Antarctica lying east of the Ross Ice Shelf and the Ross Sea and south of the Pacific Ocean, extending eastward approximately to a line between the head of the Ross Ice Shelf and Eights Coast. It stretches between 158°W and 103°24'W. The inclusion of the area between the Rockefeller Plateau and Eights Coast is based upon the leading role of the American Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd in the exploration of this area. The name was originally applied by Admiral Byrd in 1929, in honor of his wife, to the northwestern part of the area, the part that was explored in that year. [1]



Because of its remoteness, even by Antarctic standards, most of Marie Byrd Land (the portion east of 150°W) has not been claimed by any sovereign state. It is by far the largest single unclaimed territory on Earth, with an area of 1,610,000 km2 (620,000 sq mi) (including Eights Coast, immediately east of Marie Byrd Land). In 1939, United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt instructed members of the United States Antarctic Service Expedition to take steps to claim some of Antarctica as United States territory. Although this appears to have been done by members of this and subsequent expeditions, these do not appear to have been formalized prior to 1959, when the Antarctic Treaty System was set up. Some publications in the United States have shown this as a United States territory in the intervening period, and the United States Defense Department has stated that United States has a solid basis for a claim in Antarctica resulting from its activities prior to 1959. [2] The portion west of 150°W is part of Ross Dependency claimed by New Zealand.

Five coastal areas are distinguished, which are listed from west to east:

No.SectorWestern borderEastern border
1 Saunders Coast 158°00'W146°31'W
2 Ruppert Coast 146°31'W136°50'W
3 Hobbs Coast 136°50'W127°35'W
4 Bakutis Coast 127°35'W114°12'W
5 Walgreen Coast 114°12'W103°24'W
 Marie Byrd Land158°00'W103°24'W

Marie Byrd Seamount ( 70°0′S118°0′W / 70.000°S 118.000°W / -70.000; -118.000 ) is a seamount named in association with Marie Byrd Land. Name approved 6/88 (ACUF 228).[ jargon ]


Marie Byrd Land was first explored from the west where it could be accessed from the Ross Sea. The far western coast of Marie Byrd Land was seen from the decks of Robert Falcon Scott's ship Discovery in 1902. He named the peninsula adjacent to the Ross Sea King Edward VII Land and the scattered outcrops that were within sight, the Alexandra Mountains. In 1911, during Roald Amundsen's South Pole expedition, Kristian Prestrud led a sledge party that visited these isolated outcrops (nunataks) in the region bordering the eastern Ross Sea and Ross Ice Shelf. At the same time the first Japanese Antarctic Expedition led by Nobu Shirase landed a shore party on the peninsula. [3]

Dean Smith was the pilot during aerial overflights in 1929 with Richard E. Byrd's first Antarctic expedition (1928–1930). [4] It originated from Little America near Amundsen's original base camp Framheim in the Bay of Whales, led to the discovery of the Rockefeller Mountains and the Edsel Ford Ranges farther to the east. Byrd named the region after his wife Marie. A geological party led by L. Gould briefly explored parts of the Rockefeller Mountains. [5]

The first deep overland exploration occurred during the second Byrd expedition (1933–1935) when a sledge party led by Paul Siple and F.A. Wade reached as far east as the Fosdick Mountains in 1934. Aerial exploration discovered lands farther east along the Ruppert Coast. [6]

The Third Byrd Antarctic Expedition, also called the United States Antarctic Service Expedition, took place from 1939 to 1941. This expedition established two base camps 1600 miles apart. West Base was near the former Little America base (68° 29' S, 163° 57' W) and East Base was near the Antarctic Peninsula on Stonington Island (68° 12' S, 67° 03' W). [7] Exploration flights out of these two bases led to the discovery of most of the Marie Byrd Land Volcanic Province (e.g. Executive Committee Range [8] ) and much of the coastal region including the Walgreen, Hobbs, and Ruppert Coasts. [9] During the expedition trail parties from West Base visited the northern Ford Ranges and south slopes of the Fosdick Mountains. [10]

The United States Navy (USN) mounted several expeditions to Antarctica in the period 1946 to 1959. These expeditions (Operation Highjump led by R.E. Byrd, Windmill, and Deep Freeze I-IV) included aerial photography using the Trimetrogon system of aerial photographs (TMA; vertical, left, and right oblique images over the same point) over portions of coastal Marie Byrd Land. [11]

The USN began construction of Byrd Station at 80°S, 120°W with traverses out of Little America V in 1956–57 during Deep Freeze II. These efforts were in advance of the International Geophysical Year (IGY; from July 1957 to end of 1958) that saw several exploratory overland traverses with tractor trains (Sno-cats and modified bulldozers). Starting in January 1957 (pre-IGY) Charles R. Bentley led a traverse from Little America V to the new Byrd station along the route blazed by United States Army engineers a few months before (the Army-Navy Drive [12] ). His team conducted measurements of ice thickness and of the Earth's magnetic and gravity field. The following summer season (1957–58) he led a second traverse out of Byrd Station that visited volcanoes of the Marie Byrd Land Volcanic Province for the first time. The traverse reached the Sentinel Mountains beyond eastern Marie Byrd Land before returning to Byrd Station. Bentley led a third traverse out of Byrd Station to the Horlick Mountains in 1958–59. These three traverses led to the discovery of the Bentley Subglacial Trench or Trough, a deep bedrock chasm between MBL and the Transantarctic Mountains of East Antarctica. [13]

During 1958–1960 TMA flights and a traverse out of Byrd Station visited and mapped the Executive Committee Range. TMA were flown in western Marie Byrd Land in 1964 and 1965. Following these efforts the United States Geological Survey (USGS) mounted land surveys to establish a series of reference points and benchmarks throughout much of Marie Byrd Land during 1966–1968. [14]

USS Glacier (AGB-4) explored the parts of the Walgreen Coast and Eights Coast in 1960–61. It had parties of geologists and surveyors along that were deployed to outcrops on land. This expedition to the far eastern reaches of Marie Byrd Land determined that Thurston Peninsula as proposed by earlier expeditions was in fact an island (Thurston Island). [15] In the same season a geological party led by Campbell Craddock explored the Jones Mountains in the adjacent region. [16]

The United States Byrd Coastal Survey during 1966–1969, led by F.A. Wade, conducted geologic mapping of the Alexandra and Rockefeller Mountains and the Ford Ranges and produced a series of 1:250,000 geologic maps of the region. [17] This was a complex expedition involving remote helicopter camps and airborne geophysics. [18] [ citation needed ]

Several geological expeditions explored Marie Byrd Land during the period 1978–1993. New Zealand geologists surveyed the Ford Ranges and Edward VII Peninsula in two expeditions 1978–79, [19] and 1987–88. [20] Exploration of the Marie Byrd Land Volcanic Province began in earnest by U.S. geologists in 1984–85. [21] The WAVE project (West Antarctic Volcano Exploration [22] ) focused on the volcanic province during the period 1989–91. The SPRITE project (South Pacific Rim International Tectonic Expedition) [23] explored regions and surroundings of the Hobbs Coast in 1990–93. Members of both projects were from the U.S., Britain, and New Zealand. During the Austral summers of 1989–1990 and 1990–1991 a geological party from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) explored several of the mountain ranges within the northern Ford Ranges of Marie Byrd Land (FORCE expd.; Ford Ranges Crustal Exploration). [24] GANOVEX VII [25] a multinational expedition led by Germany visited Edward VII Peninsula in 1992–93.

Colorado College geologists led expeditions to the Ford Ranges in 1998–2001 (Ford Ranges), 2005–2007 and 2011-2013 (Fosdick Mountains). [26]

A mantle plume was discovered deep below Marie Byrd Land. [27] [28]

A geological map of Marie Byrd Land can be viewed online. [29] The geologic history of Marie Byrd Land in West Antarctica was summarized in a 2020 publication. [30]


Marie Byrd Land hosted the Operation Deep Freeze base Byrd Station (NBY; originally at 80°S, 120°W, rebuilt at 80°S, 119°W), beginning in 1957, in the hinterland of Bakutis Coast. Byrd Station was the only major base in the interior of West Antarctica for many years. In 1968, the first ice core to fully penetrate the Antarctic Ice Sheet was drilled here. The year-round station was abandoned in 1972, and after operating for years as a temporary summer encampment, Byrd Surface Camp, Byrd Station was reopened by the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) in 2009–2010 to support operations in northern West Antarctica. [31]

On Ruppert Coast of Marie Byrd Land is the Russian station Russkaya, which was occupied 1980–1990 and is also used as a summer-only station. [ citation needed ]

In 1998–1999, a camp was operated at the Ford Ranges (FRD) in western Marie Byrd Land, supporting a part of a United States Antarctic Program (USAP) airborne survey initiated by UCSB and supported by the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics. [32]

In 2004–05, a large camp, Thwaites (THW) was established by the USAP 150 km (93 mi) north of NBY, in order to support a large airborne geophysical survey of eastern Marie Byrd Land by the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics.[ citation needed ]

In 2006, a major encampment, WAIS Divide (WSD) was established on the divide between the Ross Sea Embayment and the Amundsen Sea Embayment, in easternmost Marie Byrd Land, in order to drill a high resolution ice core over the following three years.[ citation needed ]

In 2018, the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration [33] commenced. It entails marine, airborne, and on-ice geophysical exploration that will illuminate the character of Marie Byrd Land bedrock geology and the nature of the eastern boundary of the province.

Byrd Station was the template for the doomed Antarctic bases in:

See also

Related Research Articles

History of Antarctica Past events regarding the continent of Antarctica

The history of Antarctica emerges from early Western theories of a vast continent, known as Terra Australis, believed to exist in the far south of the globe. The term Antarctic, referring to the opposite of the Arctic Circle, was coined by Marinus of Tyre in the 2nd century AD.

Skelton Glacier

Skelton Glacier is a large glacier flowing from the polar plateau into the Ross Ice Shelf at Skelton Inlet on the Hillary Coast, south of Victoria Land, Antarctica.

Alexandra Mountains

Alexandra Mountains is a group of low, separated mountains in the north portion of Edward VII Peninsula, just southwest of Sulzberger Bay in Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica. Discovered in January–February 1902 by the British National Antarctic Expedition during an exploratory cruise of the Discovery along the Ross Ice Shelf. Named for Alexandra, then Queen of the United Kingdom.

Ellsworth Land

Ellsworth Land is a portion of the Antarctic continent bounded on the west by Marie Byrd Land, on the north by Bellingshausen Sea, on the northeast by the base of Antarctic Peninsula, and on the east by the western margin of Ronne Ice Shelf. It extends between 103°24'W and 79°45'W. The area west of 90°W is unclaimed, the area between 84°W and 90°W is claimed by Chile only, and the remainder by Chile and the United Kingdom as a part of the British Antarctic Territory. Eights Coast stretches between 103°24'W and 89°35'W, and Bryan Coast between 89°35'W and 79°45'W.

Toney Mountain

Toney Mountain is an elongated snow-covered shield volcano, 60 km (37 mi) long and rising to 3,595 m (11,795 ft) at Richmond Peak, located 56 km (35 mi) southwest of Kohler Range in Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica.

Hammond Glacier

Hammond Glacier is located on the northeast side of the Haines Mountains, flowing northwest for about 40 nautical miles (70 km) to Sulzberger Ice Shelf in the Ford Ranges of Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica. It was discovered in 1934 by the Byrd Antarctic Expedition, and named by Richard E. Byrd for John Hays Hammond, an American mining engineer and philanthropist.

West Antarctica

West Antarctica, or Lesser Antarctica, one of the two major regions of Antarctica, is the part of that continent that lies within the Western Hemisphere, and includes the Antarctic Peninsula. It is separated from East Antarctica by the Transantarctic Mountains and is covered by the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. It lies between the Ross Sea, and the Weddell Sea. It may be considered a giant peninsula stretching from the South Pole towards the tip of South America.

Executive Committee Range

The Executive Committee Range is a mountain range consisting of five major volcanoes, which trends north-south for 80 km (50 mi) along the 126th meridian west, in Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica.

King Edward VII Land

King Edward VII Land or King Edward VII Peninsula is a large, ice-covered peninsula which forms the northwestern extremity of Marie Byrd Land in Antarctica. The peninsula projects into the Ross Sea between Sulzberger Bay and the northeast corner of the Ross Ice Shelf, and forms part of the Ross Dependency. Edward VII Peninsula is defined by the Ross Ice Shelf on the southwest, Okuma Bay on the west, and to the east by Sulzberger Bay and the Saunders Coast, all essentially on the Ross Sea / Southern Ocean in Antarctica. The northwest extremity of the peninsula is Cape Colbeck. Edward VII Peninsula is located at 77°40′S155°00′W.

Fosdick Mountains

The Fosdick Mountains are an east–west trending mountain range with marked serrate outlines, standing along the south side of Balchen Glacier at the head of Block Bay, in the Ford Ranges of Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica. They were discovered by the Byrd Antarctic Expedition in 1929, and named by Richard E. Byrd for Raymond B. Fosdick, who became president of the Rockefeller Foundation.

The Ford Ranges are a grouping of mountain ranges standing east of Sulzberger Ice Shelf and Block Bay in the northwest part of Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica. Discovered by the Byrd Antarctic Expedition on December 5, 1929, they were named by Byrd for Edsel Ford of the Ford Motor Company, who helped finance the expedition.

The Billboard

The Billboard is a massive granite monolith in the Sarnoff Mountains of the Ford Ranges of Marie Byrd Land, West Antarctica, standing just west of Mount Rea between Arthur Glacier and Boyd Glacier. It was discovered in November 1934 by a Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition (1933–35) sledge party under Paul Siple, and is so named because of its form and appearance with vertical faces rising above the continental ice.

Scott Glacier (Transantarctic Mountains)

The Scott Glacier is a major glacier, 120 miles (190 km) long, that drains the East Antarctic Ice Sheet through the Queen Maud Mountains to the Ross Ice Shelf. The Scott Glacier is one of a series of major glaciers flowing across the Transantarctic Mountains, with the Amundsen Glacier to the west and the Leverett and Reedy glaciers to the east.

Mount Gilmour is a mountain 4 nautical miles (7 km) southeast of Mount Passel on the central part of the irregular ridge separating Crevasse Valley Glacier and Arthur Davis Glacier, in the Edsel Ford Ranges of Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica.

Mount Bursey Mountain in Antarctica

Mount Bursey is a broad, ice-covered mountain, 2,780 metres (9,120 ft) high, which forms the eastern end of the Flood Range in Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica.

Phillips Mountains is a range of mountains on the north side of Balchen Glacier and Block Bay in the Ford Ranges, Marie Byrd Land, West Antarctica. Discovered by the Byrd Antarctic Expedition (1928–30) and named by Byrd for Albanus Phillips, Sr., a manufacturer in Cambridge, Maryland, United States, and patron of the Byrd expeditions.

Warpasgiljo Glacier

Warpasgiljo Glacier is a valley glacier about 25 mi (40 km) long, flowing West to Sulzberger Ice Shelf between the Swanson Mountains on the North and Mounts Rea and Cooper on the South, in the Edsel Ford Ranges of Marie Byrd Land. This glacier was discovered by and named for the four Geological Party Expedition members of the West Base of the United States Antarctic Service (USAS), in aerial flights and from ground surveys in November–December 1940, as part of the Antarctic Expedition of 1939-1941 led by Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd.

Harold June

Harold Irving June (1895–1962) was a machinist, an aviator, a test pilot, and an explorer in Antarctica. He is best known for his 1928–1930 service in the first Antarctic expedition of Admiral Richard E. Byrd. Sitting in the co-pilot's seat with supplemental radio duties, he flew with Byrd, pilot Bernt Balchen, and photographer Ashley McKinley over the South Pole on November 29, 1929.

Bruce P. Luyendyk

Bruce Peter Luyendyk is an American geophysicist and oceanographer, currently professor emeritus of marine geophysics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His work spans marine geology of the major ocean basins, the tectonics of southern California, marine hydrocarbon seeps, and the tectonics and paleoclimate of Antarctica. His research includes tectonic rotations of the California Transverse Ranges, participation in the discovery of deep-sea hydrothermal vents, quantitative studies of marine hydrocarbon seeps, and geologic exploration of the Ford Ranges in Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica.


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  34. Rollins, James (2014). "Section 2: The Phantom Coast". The Sixth Extinction. (Sigma Force #10)


Coordinates: 80°00′S120°00′W / 80.000°S 120.000°W / -80.000; -120.000