An ice sheet is defined as a mass of glacial ice covering an area greater than 19,000 sq. miles. At present, the only two ice sheets on Earth’s surface – located in Antarctica and Greenland – have become a playground for scientists to uncover remnants of past events and new phenomenon that may help answer fundamental questions regarding science and the planet’s history. Recently, scientists detected high-energy particles in Antarctica that don’t fit into the Standard Model of particle physics – raising the hypothesis that they may be the first supersymmetric particles ever discovered. Now, researchers have made two new discoveries under the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica that’s bound to titillate their inquisitiveness.
The first of these discoveries occurred in Antarctica, where the British Antarctic Survey team used ice-penetrating radar data to uncover a geothermal hotspot located upstream of the South Pole. The hotspot is half-mile underneath the surface of the ice and covers an area triple the size of London – 62 miles long and 31 Km wide. Such hotspots have been discovered in the continent previously – generated by the primordial embers left over from the planet’s formation, or from radioactive materials. However, this is the first instance of a hotspot being found in the center of the continent, as the previous ones are predominantly located towards the Antarctic Peninsula situated on the west.
The survey team originally looked to find anomalies in the thickness, structure, and conditions of the ice sheets and its layers. In the aforementioned area, they found that internal ice sheet converged with the bed, which forced them to conduct further investigations into the cause. They found that a geothermal flux of 120 mW/m2 from the area has resulted in ice layers to sag and droop downwards. Since the time the hotspot has been active – around a million years ago – around 0.2 inches of ice has been slicing off per year, creating concealed streams that slip out toward the coast. While scientists affirm that the hotspot won’t melt Antarctica anytime soon, global temperature rise might make the area prone to an increased rate of melting. Dr. Jordon, the lead author of the study covering the findings, said that, “In the future, the extra water at the ice sheet bed may make this region more sensitive to external factors such as climate change.”
The second discovery occurred in northwest Greenland, where an international team of researchers found a large meteorite impact crater hiding more than half-a-mile underneath the surface of the ice sheet. The crater is the first to be found in Greenland, and its size deems it bigger than the area of Paris – measuring 19 miles in diameter and 100 ft. in depth. It’s one of the 25 largest impact crates on earth and could provide significant clues to mass extinction that occurred during that period. In fact, it was formed less than 3 million years ago when an iron meteorite more than half-a-mile crashed into the region. As the impact occurred towards the end of last ice age, it could very well be among the youngest in the world.
The uncovering of a meteorite impact crater in Greenland and a hotspot in Antarctica are the recent discoveries in the region. The ice sheets hold many more secrets and are crucial to preserving Earth’s sensitive ecosystem, especially in the face of climate change.