Scientists discover immense landscape hidden for millions of years under Antarctic ice

2023-10-24 22:35:13

A representation of the topography of the continent hidden under the ice of Antarctica. The area spotted by researchers and marked as “Highland A”. — © STEWART JAMIESON, DURHAM UNIVERSITY/AFP

The researchers did not need new data to detect it, but simply used a new approach to this unknown landlocated under the East Antarctic ice sheet, much less known than the surface of Mars.

A radio-ultrasound survey

To see what lies beneath, it was necessary to send radio waves into the ice, flown over by plane, then analyze the echoes, a technique called radio-ultrasound probing. But carrying out this operation on the scale of the Antarctic continent – ​​larger than Europe – would constitute a major challenge. The researchers therefore used existing satellite images of the surface to “trace the valleys and ridges” more than two kilometers deep, explained Stewart Jamieson.

video In Antarctica, immersion under the “glacier of the Apocalypse”

By combining these data with those of the radio-ultrasound survey, the image of a landscape carved by a river emerged, composed of deep valleys and hills with steep peaks, similar to those currently found on the surface of the Earth. “It was as if we were looking out of the window of an airplane and seeing a mountainous region below,” explains the glaciologist, who compares this landscape to the region of Snowdonia, in north Wales.

A landscape at least 14 million years old

This 32,000 square kilometer expanse was once home to forests and probably animals. Before the ice covers it to “freeze it in time”. It is difficult to determine precisely when the landscape was last exposed to the Sun, but estimates suggest it was at least 14 million years ago. Professor Jamieson’s “hunch” is that this happened more than 34 million years ago, when Antarctica began to freeze over.

Researchers previously found a city-sized lake beneath Antarctica’s ice, and the study’s authors hope to unearth even more landscapes. Except that global warming could threaten their latest discovery.

Also read: Ozone hole three times the size of Brazil identified over Antarctica

The landscape is fortunately miles from the edge of the ice cap, which should protect it from future exposure to light. Another reassuring parameter: this hidden world was not affected by the retreat of ice during ancient periods of warming – such as the Pliocene period, 3 to 4.5 million years ago. But we still do not know what the climatic “tipping point” of an “uncontrolled reaction” of ice melting will be, underlines Professor Jamieson.

On Monday, a study warned that the melting of the ice sheet in neighboring West Antarctica was likely to accelerate significantly in the coming decades. And this even if the world respected its commitments to limit global warming.

Read also: The penguin, an iron link for the Southern Ocean

#Scientists #discover #immense #landscape #hidden #millions #years #Antarctic #ice

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.