Underworld of Gamburtsev Mountains Revealed
27.02.2009 - Logistics, Land & Geology, Ice & Snow, Other, Antarctic
The mission to uncover the deeper structure of the Gamburtsev subglacial mountains, the Antarctica's Gamburtsev Province (AGAP) project, has been completed, with the first glimpse of a landscape buried under up to 4km (2.5 miles) of ice revealed through a network of seismometers. The Gamburtsev subglacial mountains, discovered by Russian scientists 50 years ago, are thought to be the birthplace of the vast East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which covers 10 million km2 of our planet.
The science teams set up two remote field camps, AGAP North and AGAP South, on both sides of Dome A, the highest point on the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. The seven-nation team flew two survey aircrafts over the ice sheet, flying a total of 120,000 km and exploring over 20% (one fifth) of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet using state-of-the-art radar as well as aeromagnetic and gravity sensors. The radar mounted on the wings of the aircraft penetrated the thick ice, allowing scientists to discover that temperatures at the base of the ice sheet - some three kilometres below the surface - were higher than at the surface. Scientists now hope to use the same radar technology to further explore the region in order to pinpoint the ideal place for ice core drilling, which will provide better insight into the history of climate change.
With the deep structure of the mountains now revealed, new questions have arisen as to how the vast East Antarctic Ice Sheet formed. The Alps-like structure of the Gamburtsev Subglacial Mountains, with its peaks and valleys, could suggest that the ice sheet formed relatively quickly, but scientists have yet to explore the newly collected data.