– If you have suspected there is something hidden beneath the thick ice of Antarctica, then you were absolutely right.
Scientists have discovered giant landforms, known as “eskers” lurking beneath the ice. Some of these massive landforms are five times bigger than those seen in regions where ancient ice has retreated, and researchers say they’re shaping the ice hundreds of miles away.
Researchers have long suspected there are landforms beneath Antarctica, but the thick ice prevent us from observing what is hidden thousands of feet below.
Now, using satellite imagery and airborne and ground-based radar data, researchers from the Université libre de Bruxelles in Belgium and the Bavarian Academy of Sciences in Germany have detected distinct ‘radar reflectors’ below Roi Baudouin Ice Shelf in Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica.
These are subglacial conduits that form under large ice sheets as part of their basal hydrological system. These tunnels have a typical diameter of several meters to tens of meters, and they funnel the subglacial melt water towards the ocean.
‘Eskers, a glacial landform used in the reconstruction of palaeo ice sheets, are the depositional evidence of former channelized subglacial hydrological systems,’ the authors wrote in the study, published to Nature Communications.
‘Our inferred eskers are much larger than most eskers of the Wisconsonian glacial record, but, their shape resembles that of some eskers in deglaciated areas formerly occupied by marine-terminating ice sheets.’
As the ice flows over these ridges, they leave ‘scars’ along the bottom of the ice.
The landforms are comparable in height with the Eiffel tower and researchers admit they have not seen anything like this before.
It was originally thought that ice-shelf channels are carved by melting due to the ocean only, but this seems only part of the story.
“Our study shows that ice-shelf channels can already be initiated on land, and that the size of the channels significantly depends on sedimentation processes occurring over hundreds to thousands of years” indicates Reinhard Drews, lead author of the study.
This is perhaps not the ancient lost civilization of Antarctica some think is buried beneath the ice, but it’s still a significant discovery that can help to unravel some of the mysteries of our coldest continent.
We should also keep in mind that the discover of these hidden eskers is of interest for the stability of the floating ice shelves, as numerous studies show that ice shelf thinning has major consequences for ice sheet stability.
It’s also important to study Antarctica because this mysterious continent could help us answering questions such as: Where did we come from? Are we alone in the universe? What’s the fate of our warming planet? Antarctica hold the clues to our past and future.