Earth history is punctuated by events during which large volumes of predominantly mafic magmas were generated and emplaced by processes that are generally accepted as being, unrelated to ‘normal’ sea-floor spreading and subduction processes. These events form large igneous provinces (LIPs) which are best preserved in the Mesozoic and Cenozoic where they occur as continental and ocean basin flood basalts, giant radiating dyke swarms, volcanic rifted margins, oceanic plateaus, submarine ridges, and seamount chains. The Mesozoic history of Antarctica is no exception in that a number of different igneous provinces were emplaced during the initial break-up and continued disintegration of Gondwana, leading to the isolation of Antarctica in a polar position. The link between the emplacement of the igneous rocks and continental break-up processes remains controversial. The environmental impact of large igneous province formation on the Earth System is equally debated. Large igneous province eruptions are coeval with, and may drive environmental and climatic effects including global warming, oceanic anoxia and/or increased oceanic fertilisation, calcification crises, mass extinction and release of gas hydrates.
This review explores the links between the emplacement of large igneous provinces in Antarctica, the isolation of Antarctica from other Gondwana continents, and possibly related environmental and climatic changes during the Mesozoic and Cenozoic.