Scientists discover ancient landscape hidden beneath East Antarctic Ice


New Delhi: Scientists at Newcastle University have discovered an ancient landscape that has been hidden beneath the East Antarctic ice sheet for millions of years.

The research team, which also involved scientists at Durham University, used satellite data and radio-echo-sounding techniques to map a 32,000 km2 area of land underneath the vast ice sheet.

The study has been published in the journal Nature Communications Co-author Neil Ross, Professor of Polar Science and Environmental Geophysics at Newcastle University.

As per the Statement, they discovered a landscape that appears to have been formed by rivers at least 14 million years ago and possibly even before the initial growth of the East Antarctic ice around 34 million years ago. 

“It is remarkable that this landscape, ‘hidden in plain sight’ for many years, can tell us so much about the early, and long-term, history of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, as well as help us to understand how it might evolve in response to future climate change” Neil Ross said. 

Graphic above ‘lifts’ the East Antarctic Ice Sheet off the bed landscape and highlights the study area

“This has been something of a slow-burn project, but one that has now come to fruition in an exciting paper involving a great
research team” he said.

Co-author Professor Stewart Jamieson, in the Department of Geography, DurhamUniversity, said: “The land underneath the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is less well known than the surface of Mars.  

“And that’s a problem because that landscape controls the way that ice in Antarctica flows, and it controls the way it might respond to past, present, and future climate change,” he said.

The research team proposes it is likely that there will be other, as yet undiscovered, ancient landscapes hidden beneath the East Antarctic Ice Sheet.  

Professor Jamieson added, “We’ll continue exploring the landscape, doing our best to fill in gaps where surveys don’t exist, and using that information to understand how the ice sheet and its underlying landscape have changed over their long history.” 

The discovery builds on previous work by this team who, in collaboration with other researchers, have mapped out hidden mountain ranges, canyon systems, and lakes beneath the ice in Antarctica.  

Although the landscape beneath the ice sheet is not visible to the naked eye, satellite images captured over the region show small undulations of the ice sheet’s surface that provide clues about the sub-ice landscape.

In a few places, the landscape’s existence has been confirmed by using radio-echo sounding from planes to see through the ice and map the shape of the land beneath the ice sheet.

The survey data collection was supported by the UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Natural Environment Research Council (NERC),
the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA.


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