Antarctica’s ghost alps reveal their secrets

Antarctica’s ghost alps reveal their secrets


A team of scientists say they have discovered how a subglacial mountain range the size of the Alps formed up to 250 million years ago.

The Gamburtsev subglacial mountains, which are buried more than 2 miles beneath the snow and ice of Antarctica, are currently the largest remaining bloc of ice on earth. Scientists studying the formation say the mountains appear to have been created nearly 250 million years ago — part of a series of ridges that form where Earth’s tectonic plates separate that once stretched about 1,800 miles. The continent’s so-called ‘ghost mountains’ lie beneath the ice sheet that surrounds Dome Argus, the latest peak on earth’s most southern continent.

Some 34 million years ago, the magnificent mountains became smothered by the East Antarctic icesheet, an area the size of Canada. Since then, scientists have sought to identify the underlying causes leading to the formation of the mountains.

“In particular, the fluvial and glacial valleys were responsible for uplifting the peaks and making the mountains look like the Alps. Their present-day aspect is strongly influenced by climate and ice sheet evolution,” said Fausto Ferraccioli, lead author of the report and geophysicist at the British Antarctic Survey. “Understanding long-term ice sheet evolution is critical in order to develop more realistic models of variations of the ice sheet to climate change.”

“These are the least understood mountain ranges on Earth,” Ferraccioli added. “It is as exciting as exploring another planet.”

Scientists say the mountains could provide the oldest ice cores on earth, some of which may be upwards of 1.2 million years old or more. The ice cores are likely to provide scientists with a better understanding of conditions on earth millions of years ago, which could better assist in mapping the effects of causes of global climate change.

Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey and scientists from six other nations used ice penetrating radars, gravity meters and magnetometers to study the Gamburtsev Subglacial Mountains, the research team said.

The team next hopes to drill down to the mountains to retrieve the first actual samples from the mountains.