A team of scientists has announced that the so-called ‘ghost peaks’ in the middle of Antarctica, which are hidden miles beneath the surface of an ice sheet, are finally coming into view.
According to a report in the National Geographic Society, ground-penetrating radar results from 2008 and 2009 have made possible the most detailed images yet of the Gamburtsev Mountains and researchers say it’s a surprisingly serrated range.
The international team crisscrossed the Gamburtsev area with a radar-equipped airplane, which allowed them to peer through the ice to “see” the underlying terrain.
“The range was likely to have formed millions of years before becoming covered in Antarctic ice,” said geophysicist Robin Bell of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who led America’s Gamburtsev Province Project as part of the International Polar Year (2007-08) science program.
“In size and shape, the Gamburtsev’s resemble the United States’ Cascade Range,” Bell said.
“The radar also revealed water pockets beneath the ice,” she said. That’s important, because understanding the subglacial plumbing helps scientists determine what will happen to the Antarctic ice sheet as global warming intensifies.
“In some places under the Antarctic ice, it appears that liquid water flows down some of Gamburtsev’s ancient valleys,” said expedition leader Bell.
“But there are other places where the (moving) ice sheet is simply going to pull the water and drag it right over the ridges and down the other side, right over the highest peaks,” she said.
Studying the mountains’ topography can help determine when and how the Gamburtsev's were formed — which still remains a mystery.
The existence of river valleys indicates that the mountains predate present-day ice-covered Antarctica, but no one is sure by how much.
“The Gamburtsev's are likely younger than 500 million years old,” Bell said. If they were older than that, they would show signs of deformation from a prehistoric collision between Australia and Antarctica.