The land of ice, Antarctica is also a land of mysteries. Scientists knew that Antarctica holds the key to understand the Earth’s past, present, and future. Recently, scientists discovered the biggest mystery of the frozen world. Under the ice sheets of Antarctica hides vast canyons and mountain ranges that are bigger than the island Manhattan.
Antarctica is a home of about 70 percent of the Earth’s fresh water and 90 percent of the planet’s freshwater ice. Not surprisingly, the most of the Antarctica’s research is focused on what is happening under it, to it, and in it. In search of data regarding the Earth’s gravity field, scientists discovered that vast valley and mountain ranges have been sitting underneath the Western Antarctica’s ice region. A team of scientists used “ice penetrating radar” to scale the landscape of Antarctica. The scientists found three valleys connecting Antarctica’s two major regions, the Western and the Eastern Antarctica Ice Sheet. The largest of the newly-found canyons is Foundation Trough, which has width of more than 20 miles and it covers more than 215 miles. This distance is equivalent to the distance between Washington D.C. and New York City. Moreover, if compared, it is longer than Manhattan island. Another discovered valley is around 198 miles long and roughly 10 miles wide. Even the smallest valley discovered is about 93 miles long and nearly 18 miles wide.
Kate Winter, the lead author of the study said, “The discovered lands prevent ice flow from East Antarctica through West Antarctica to the coast. However, the ice sheets have become thin owing to the increasing global temperature. In addition, these mountain ranges could increase the speed rate at which ice flows out from the center of Antarctica to its edges, which in turn can increase the global sea level.”
The research was a part of the European Space Agency’s PolarGAP project to analyze the Earth’s gravity field and was published in the Geophysical Research Letters journal. The lead investigator, Fausto Ferraccioli, explained the importance of the study. He stated that these findings are significant to understand the South Pole region, one of the least understood territories in the Antarctica. In addition, the new PolarGAP data provide us insights into how the landscape beneath the ice influences the ice flow and how the parts for Antarctic ice sheets near the South pole can or cannot evolve in presence of glaciological change around their margins.
As shocking as this discovery is, there are numerous studies conducted by researchers to understand the behavior of the landscapes under the influence of ice. Last month, a new satellite survey unveiled that 10 percent of Antarctica’s melting ice is moving at a remarkable speed toward the center of the continent. Moreover, more than 20 percent of coastal glaciers are disappearing faster than 25 meters per year. This can lead to increase in global sea level. Even though this discovery has given several clues to understand the last hundred years of the Earth, there are lot of questions that are still unanswered.