Survey Of Mysterious South Pole Region Finds Something Spectacular

A mosaic of shots of Antarctica. GSFC/NASA

Robin Andrews 25 May 2018, 16:29

It’s not easy to peer under ice, whether that be shelves floating on coastlines or the thick, ancient material locked – for now – to the hidden continental rock underneath. Fortunately, thanks to plenty of radar research and, on occasion, an extremely long drill, scientists are increasingly discovering worlds of bizarre crystals, canyons, and microbe-rich lakes.

As spotted by BBC News, the latest chapter comes courtesy of a new Geophysical Research Letters study. Led by Northumbria and Newcastle Universities, the work details the new discovery of canyons and mountain ranges buried by hundreds of meters of ice.

Three troughs – named the Patuxent Trough, the Offset Rift Basin, and the Foundation Trough – are unfathomably colossal, with the most expansive, Foundation, being at least 350 kilometers (218 miles) long, about the distance between New York City and Boston. It’s also 35 kilometers (21.8 miles) wide, which roughly means it’d take the average person 7 hours to walk from one side to the other.

“The troughs are presumably tectonic in origin, but we attribute their size and geometry to historic glacial erosion during the Oligocene and Miocene, when the ice sheet was thinner,” lead author Dr Kate Winter of Northumbria University, told IFLScience

This magnificent discovery represents the very first entry into the fray from the PolarGAP Project. Spearheaded by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), it’s literally designed to fill in an informational gap near the South Pole.

What lies beneath the gap in satellite gravity data coverage? That's what PolarGAP was designed to uncover. BAS

Two of the European Space Agency’s Earth-observing satellites – the ice-thickness-ascertaining CryoSat 2 and the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) – weren’t able to observe a high-latitude segment of Antarctica. Planes equipped with a variety of instrumentation, including that old classic, ground-penetrating radar, were enlisted to complete the picture.

That they have. Described by the BAS as “the first modern aero-geophysical survey of the South Pole region,” it’s far more than just marveling over what’s hidden down below the ice. As all research relating to the cryosphere is inextricably linked, the team here are curious about how climate change will affect the region.

The subglacial topography of the region, as identified by the surveys (a), as well as the speed at which ice at the surface is moving (b). Winter et al./GRL
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