Scientists uncover landscape ‘preserved in time’ beneath Antarctic ice


Under the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, a frozen landscape the size of a city, untouched for possibly 34 million years, has been revealed

Some days ago, scientists stumbled upon an enormous concealed landscape of hills and valleys, formed by ancient rivers, beneath the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. This landscape, which is larger than Belgium, has remained undisturbed for potentially over 34 million years.

This revelation became possible through satellite observations and ice-penetrating radar. Based on a AFP report, the researchers transmitted radio waves into the ice and examined the echoes, using a method known as radio-echo sounding. They also stated that the land beneath the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is less familiar than the surface of Mars.

“What is remarkable is that it’s been concealing itself in plain view,” glaciologist and primary study author Stewart Jamieson told AFP. The researchers utilized existing satellite images of the surface to “trace out the valleys and ridges” more than two kilometres (1.6 miles) below. When this data was combined with radio-echo-sounding data, scientists observed an image of a river-carved landscape of valleys and sharply peaked hills resembling certain regions on Earth’s surface, AFP explained in its report.

The area spans across 32,000 square kilometres (12,000 square miles) and was once inhabited by trees, forests, and possibly animals, the report added. The researchers are confident that it has been at least 14 million years since it was last exposed, but Jamieson believes it could be over 34 million years, when Antarctica initially froze over.

Significantly, scientists have cautioned that global warming could endanger this discovery and cause it to melt. In their study, published in Nature Communications, the researchers stated that current atmospheric conditions resemble those that existed between 14 and 34 million years ago when temperatures were three to seven degrees Celsius higher.

However, Jamieson informed AFP that since the landscape is hundreds of kilometres away from the ice edge, any potential exposure is far in the future. Nevertheless, the tipping point for the melting of this frozen landscape remains unclear.

Last year, scientists found a lake the size of a city under the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, named Lake Snow Eagle after one of the Chinese aircraft that discovered it, as mentioned in a Live Science report. Scientists suggested that this concealed lake might contain a record of the entire history of the ice sheet.

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