Antarctica Ice Has Hidden Valleys And Mountain Ranges Under It

Editorials News | Jun-14-2019

Antarctica Ice Has Hidden Valleys And Mountain Ranges Under It

Mountain ranges and three giant, deep subglacial valleys are found by researchers which are hidden beneath the Antarctica ice. The findings are published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters and are the first to appear from extensive ice penetrating radar data which is collected in Antarctica as part of the European Space Agency PolarGAP project.

Although there are extensive satellite data which help image the surface of the Earth and its deep interior, there was a visible space around the South Pole area, which is not covered by satellites because of the inclination of their orbits.

The PolarGAP project was therefore designed for filling the gap in the satellite data coverage of the South Pole and in particular gets the missing gravity data.

Airborne radar data were also collaborated for enabling the mapping of the bedrock topography hidden beneath the ice sheet. The data showcases that the topography that controls how quickly ice flows between the East and West Antarctic ice sheets.

The team, led by researchers from Northumbria University in the UK, has analyzed for the first time these three giant, subglacial valleys in West Antarctica. These valleys could be very significant and important in the future as they help to channel the flow of ice from the centre of the continent towards the coast.

If climate change made the ice sheet thin, these troughs could improve the speed at which ice flows from the centre of Antarctica to the sea, raising global sea levels. The largest valley, which is known as the Foundation Trough, is more than 350 kilometres long and 35 kilometres wide. Its length is equal to the distance from London to Manchester, while its width amounts to more than one and a half times the length of the Manhattan Island of New York.

The two other troughs are equally giant. The Patuxent Trough is more than 300 KMs long and over 15 KMs wide. The Offset Rift Basin is 150 KMs long and 30 KMs wide.

Kate Winter, a research fellow at Northumbria University, said that as there were gaps in satellite data around the South Pole, no one knew exactly what was there, so we are delighted to be capable to release the very first findings to emerge from the PolarGAP project.

Winter also said that they now understand that the mountainous area is avoiding ice from East Antarctica flowing through West Antarctica to the coast. In addition, they have also discovered three subglacial valleys in West Antarctica which could be important in the future.

She also added that if the ice sheet thins or retreats, these topographically controlled corridors could facilitate increased flow of ice further inland, and could lead to the West Antarctic ice divide moving. This would, in turn, raise the speed and rate at which ice flows out from the centre of Antarctica to its edges, leading to an increase in global sea levels.

By: Preeti Narula


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