Researchers have discovered under the Antarctic ice hidden mountain ranges and three huge, deep subglacial valleys.
The results, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters are the first to be generated by the intrusion of ice from radar data collected as part of the PolarGAP project of the European Space Agency in the Antarctic ,
Although there is extensive satellite data depicting the surface of the Earth and its deep interior, there was a gap around the South Pole due to the inclination of its orbits covered by satellites. The PolarGAP project was therefore developed to close the gap in the satellite data coverage of the South Pole and in particular to capture the missing gravitational data.
Airborne radar data was also collected to map the rocky surface hidden beneath the ice cover. The data shows the topography, which controls how fast ice flows between the eastern and western Antarctic ice cover.
Subglacial Valley Mapping
The team, led by researchers from Northumbria University in the UK, has for the first time mapped three large mapping areas, subglacial valleys in the western Antarctic. These valleys may be important in the future, as they help to channel the flow of ice from the center of the continent towards the coast.
If climate change makes the ice sheet thinner, these troughs could increase the speed at which ice drains off the center of the Antarctic to the sea, raising global sea levels.
The largest valley known as "Foundation Trough" is more than 350 kilometers long and 35 kilometers wide. Its length corresponds to the distance from London to Manchester, while its width is more than one-and-a-half times the length of New York's Manhattan Island.
The other two valleys are the same size. The Patuxent Trough is more than 300 kilometers long and over 1
"Key piece of the puzzle"
"There were gaps in the satellite data At the South Pole, nobody knew exactly what was there, so we are happy to publish the very first results from the PolarGAP project," Kate Winter, Research Fellow at Northumbria University. "We now understand that the mountain region prevents ice from the East Antarctic flowing through the West Antarctic to the coast, and we also discovered three subglacial valleys in the West Antarctic that could be important in the future."
"If the ice cap thinning or retreating, these topographically controlled corridors could allow further ice flow further inland, leading to the West Antarctic ice movement, "she said. "In turn, this would increase the speed and speed with which ice flows from the center of the Antarctic to its edges, leading to an increase in global sea level."
"By mapping these deep valleys and mountains, we have added a key element to the puzzle to understand how the East Antarctic ice sheet might have responded to past changes and what it might look like in the future," said Fausto Ferraccioli, Principal Investigator the PolarGAP project of the European Space Agency.
"Our new aerogeophysical data will also enable a new exploration of the geological processes that created the mountains and basins before the formation of the Antarctic ice sheet," Ferraccioli said.