Millions of years ago, three rivers carved the mountain blocks, valleys and chasms beneath the earth as they meandered toward the coast. Over time, that scene was buried under the Antarctic ice.
But now, those hidden traits are no longer hidden. Recently, scientists announced that they were able to use ice-penetrating radar and satellite images to reveal an ancient landscape under the East Antarctic ice sheet. The results were published in Communication in Nature.
The team is excited about the chance to see what the area looked like 14 million years ago, but they are also concerned that climate change could also expose the area, located about 215 miles from the edge of the ice sheets.
The team of researchers used their technology to analyze the landscape of the Aurora-Schmidt basin, within the Denman and Totten glaciers. Before the glaciation, when rivers crossed the region toward a coastline that had opened up during the breakup of the Gondwana supercontinent, three mountain blocks were formed, carved by the rivers and separated by deep gorges. well This continental breakup likely created valleys between the mountain blocks, and when the ice came, researchers believe it remained “largely stable” for millions of years despite the warm times in between.
The study team wrote that the East Antarctic Ice Sheet had its origin 34 million years ago, and that the effects of climate changes during that time manifested themselves in periods of extensive and restricted coverage of ice. , as well as changing the landscape.
And the changes would have been quick. “The preservation of relict surfaces indicates a loss of significant ice-based heat throughout their history,” the authors wrote, “suggesting that any transition between restricted and expanded ice was rapid.”
According to the team, although studying what is hidden under the ice sheets is important to understand the history of these layers and our planet, finding this much information is not common. “Resolving the processes of landscape evolution is therefore essential to establishing the history of ice sheets,” the authors write, “but it is rare to find unaltered landscapes that record of past ice conditions.”
They’re happy with the luck they’ve had, especially with climate change progress. Researchers believe that the Earth is on a path to relatively quickly reach temperatures similar to those 14-34 million years ago. Understanding past climate changes in the East Antarctic Ice Sheet will help scientists better understand how the ice sheet may develop in the future, an important task because it contains enough water to cause a rise of nearly 60 meters from sea level.
The more prepared we are for such a change in sea level, the better.
Tim Newcomb is a journalist based in the Pacific Northwest. He covers stadiums, sneakers, gear, infrastructure, and more for various publications, including Popular Mechanics. His favorite interviews include sitting down with Roger Federer in Switzerland, Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, and Tinker Hatfield in Portland.