News / Science & Technology

    Mapping Mountain Range Found Under Antarctic Ice

    Discovered beneath sheet of ice several kilometers thick

    A magnetic and laser image of the mountain range underneath the Antarctic ice sheet that Robin Bell and her colleagues mapped in 2009.
    A magnetic and laser image of the mountain range underneath the Antarctic ice sheet that Robin Bell and her colleagues mapped in 2009.

    Multimedia

    Audio

    At Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, a short drive north of New York City, more than 300 scientists and researchers are delving into the geophysical mysteries of our planet from virtually every angle.

    One project is to discover what’s happening beneath the world’s largest ice sheet in remote eastern Antarctica.   

    It’s late afternoon at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, where Robin Bell is at work analyzing various images of glaciers and plotting her next expedition to the frozen southern pole. She takes a break to explain why she loves ice so much.

    “Ice is cool because it is really hard to look under. So there are all kinds of mysteries that are underneath the ice sheet that you can’t see without sending out radar energy. You get to look somewhere nobody has looked before. So you get to find things that nobody had thought about before.”

    The international expedition Robin Bell (extreme right) helped to lead.
    The international expedition Robin Bell (extreme right) helped to lead.

    Hidden wonder

    Such as an entire mountain range, hidden from view beneath a sheet of ice several kilometers thick.   

    “We went to the middle of the Eastern Antarctica ice sheet, which the biggest one on the planet. It covers the entire eastern half of Antarctica. The top of the ice sheet is about 4,200 meters high (above sea level) and underneath that is a mountain range. The Russians discovered the mountain range when they drove across it in 1958, and they found the ice was really thin there. But nobody had been back there, pretty much, in the following 50 years.”

    There is no visible evidence of these peaks and valleys beneath the unbroken surface of the ice field, and Bell was determined to learn more about them.

    The specially-fitted plane Robin Bell and her scientific colleagues used to plot the buried Antarctic mountain range.
    The specially-fitted plane Robin Bell and her scientific colleagues used to plot the buried Antarctic mountain range.

    In 2008, she outfitted a small plane with sensitive laser, radar and magnetic-field monitoring equipment, and oversaw a series of systematic aerial surveys over the ice sheet. The resulting images, which look very much like dental X-rays, showed the mountains, and more.

    Closer look

    “There were things that looked more like clouds or mushrooms or something at the bottom of the ice sheet. But big! Like a kilometer thick. So, being a scientist, first you think there is something wrong with your instruments, because there shouldn’t be things that look like this under the ice sheet. But when you start seeing it on one line and then five kilometers later you see it on the next line and then the next one you begin to think ‘there might actually be something there.’”

    What Bell was seeing was an entire range of mountains, more like the Alps than the scattered “mega-bumps” she and her team expected to find. There were also valleys and, at the base of the mountains, four kilometers underground, rivers of slow-moving water.

    “When we go to the middle of Antarctica, the average temperature is roughly minus-40 degrees Centigrade (Celsius). That’s at the surface. But the ice sheet acts like a blanket and captures the heat of the earth coming up. So the bottom of the ice sheet is only about minus two degrees Centigrade. So it’s not very far from melting. It’s pretty warm down there.”

    Bell and her team found other surprises in this hidden, ice-blanketed world, such as rivers that flowed uphill.

    Robin Bell in her office at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
    Robin Bell in her office at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

    “We really hadn’t thought about what would happen to water and valleys when you drop a four and a half kilometer thick ice sheet on top of it and that you’d actually end up driving the water up the hill. Because the ice is thinner at the end of the valley than down at the bottom. So the water is actually getting squirted uphill.”

    Revamping impressions

    The discovery that liquid water is flowing beneath Antarctica’s massive ice sheet has forced scientists to revise their view of the so-called “frozen continent.” It was long believed that the ice sheet was layered like a birthday cake, with the newest ice near the top, where the most recent snowfalls had frozen.

    But Bell says it now seems that some of the most ancient ice is being melted and then pressed uphill by the weight of the ice above it, until it freezes again. That means many ice layers higher up in the ice sheet might actually be more ancient than the layers below them.

    “Which is a kind of a backwards way of thinking about things.”

    Bell says her research might seem exotic but its implications are urgent.

    “If we want to know how the ice sheets are going to change in the future, we need to know how they are going to move. And they move on their bottoms. So what the bottom of the ice sheet is made of really matters.”

    Bell believes her work at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory is doing more than deepening our understanding of the physics of polar ice.

    Bell says that knowing why and how that ice melts will also help scientists better predict the effects of global climate change, and the profound environmental impacts it is certain to have.

    You May Like

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora