Satellite and Radar Reveal Ancient Landscape Beneath East Antarctic Ice Sheet

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An intriguing ancient landscape, concealed beneath the East Antarctic ice sheet for over 14 million years, has been unveiled through cutting-edge satellite data and specialized planes equipped with ice-penetrating radar. This landscape spans 32,000 square kilometers, roughly the size of Belgium, and was crafted by rivers before the formation of the East Antarctic ice sheet.

The lead study author, Stewart Jamieson, emphasized the significance of this discovery, “The land beneath the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is less well known than the surface of Mars.” Such concealed terrains play a pivotal role in dictating how Antarctic ice flows and responds to climatic changes in the past, present, and anticipated future scenarios.

The landscape, which bears similarities to the hills and valleys of modern North Wales, was meticulously mapped with the objective of tracing the evolution of the ice sheet over millions of years. Preserving the details of such ancient terrains is crucial for understanding these evolutionary processes, as ice sheet movements often erode these relic landscapes over time.

Remarkably, the pristine preservation of this landscape distinguishes it from others. Jamieson pointed out the rarity of discovering relatively unmodified terrains beneath vast continental ice sheets. Therefore, discerning why this specific landscape remains largely intact is paramount for predicting the dynamics of the East Antarctic ice sheet in a warming world.

According to the research, the climatic conditions of our planet are veering toward temperatures reminiscent of the epoch when this landscape initially formed, ranging between 34 to 14 million years ago. These temperatures were 3 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit higher than present times.

Despite the warming periods that ensued, Jamieson theorized that this landscape’s survival hints at exceptionally cold and stable temperatures at the base of the ice sheet. “In other areas, we’d expect there to be liquid water, which aids in erosion. We don’t observe this in our location, which partly elucidates how the terrain persisted for an extended duration.”

The geophysical data amassed has provided illuminating insights into the terrains obscured beneath almost 1.2 miles of ice. “In essence, we’re observing the remnants of that landscape from above,” Jamieson elucidated.

While the research team remains uncertain about the potential flora and fauna that may have graced this ancient terrain, the existence of rivers strongly suggests that flowing water was prevalent. Consequently, it is highly probable that this vast landscape was once teeming with vegetation.

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