Alps-like mountains found buried under Antarctic ice-sheet

February 25th, 2009 - 6:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Feb 25 (IANS) Flying twin-engine light aircraft, logging an equivalent of several trips around the globe, scientists have not only verified the presence of a huge mountain range, buried under more than four km of ice, but also has created a detailed picture of the rugged landscape.
“Working cooperatively in some of the harshest conditions imaginable, all the while working in temperatures that averaged minus 30 degrees Celsius, our seven-nation team has produced detailed images of the last unexplored mountain range on Earth,” said Michael Studinger.

He is from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the co-leader of the US portion of the Antarctica’s Gamburstev Province (AGAP) project. The AGAP survey area covered roughly 2 million square kilometers of the ice sheet.

“As our two survey aircraft flew over the flat white ice sheet, the instrumentation revealed a remarkably rugged terrain with deeply etched valleys and very steep mountain peaks.”

The initial data also appear to confirm earlier findings that a vast aquatic system of lakes and rivers exists beneath the ice sheet of Antarctica, a continent that is the size of the U.S. and Mexico combined.

The National Science Foundation (NSF), in its role as manager of the U.S. Antarctic Program, provided much of the complex logistical support that made the discoveries possible.

NSF also supported U.S. researchers from Columbia University, Washington University in St. Louis, Pennsylvania State University, the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) at the University of Kansas, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Incorporated Research Institutions in Seismology (IRIS).

The initial AGAP findings — based on both the aerogeophysical surveys and on data from a network of seismic sensors deployed as part of the project — while extremely exciting, also raise additional questions about the role of the Gamburstevs in birthing the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which extends over more than 10 million square kilometers atop the bedrock of Antarctica, said geophysicist Fausto Ferraccioli, of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), who led the U.K. science team.

“We now know that not only are the mountains the size of the European Alps but they also have similar peaks and valleys,” he said. “But this adds even more mystery about how the vast East Antarctic Ice Sheet formed.”

While the planes made a series of survey flights, covering a total of 120,000 square kilometres, seismologists flew to 26 different sites throughout an area larger than the state of Texas using Twin Otter aircraft equipped with skis, to install scientific equipment that will run for the next year on solar power and batteries, said an NSF release.

The seismology team, from Washington University, Penn State, IRIS, and Japan’s National Institute of Polar Research, also recovered 10 seismographs that have been collecting data since last year over the dark Antarctic winter at temperatures as low as -73 degrees Celsius (-100 degrees Fahrenheit).

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