Antarctica: An ancient landscape discovered deep under the ice
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27.10.2023 Antarctic   91
Antarctica: An ancient landscape discovered deep under the ice

Scientists are gaining insight into an ancient and hidden world beneath the Antarctic ice sheet using satellite observations and ice-piercing radar.

In the Wilkes Land region of East Antarctica, bordering the Antarctic continent, reports are to be believed. In the Indian Ocean, researchers have discovered a vast pre-glacial landscape marked by ridges and valleys that were formed by ancient rivers.

This landscape, covering an area similar in size to Belgium or the US state of Maryland, dates back at least 14 million years ago, and possibly earlier, before the deep freeze of Antarctica 34 million years ago.

Stuart Jamieson, professor of glaciology at Durham University and one of the study's leaders, describes the discovery as a "snapshot of the past" , as the landscape likely experienced much warmer conditions in antiquity.

The presence of ancient palm pollen near the study site indicates a climate ranging from modern Patagonia to more tropical climates. Although the region may have been inhabited by wildlife, the incomplete fossil record does not allow specific species to be identified.

Jamieson suggested that the environment was likely to support a variety of wildlife, but the region's fossil record is insufficient to pinpoint specific animals that might have thrived there.

Experts also say that beneath the 2.2 to 3 km thick ice lies land less explored than the surface of Mars. The researchers suggest that drilling through the ice to obtain sediment core samples could reveal evidence of ancient flora and fauna.

This groundbreaking study used satellite observations and ice-penetrating radar data from flybys to uncover this unique buried landscape, different from previous discoveries under the ice of Antarctica. The features of the area have evolved over geological time under the influence of rivers, tectonics and glaciations.

Experts add that the landscape has changed as a result of various processes under the influence of various causes over a very long period of geological time.

Approximately 34 million years ago, the landscape and plant life of Antarctica likely resembled the cool temperate rainforests found in New Zealand, Tasmania and the Patagonia region of South America.

Antarctica was once part of the supercontinent Gondwana, which also included modern-day Africa, Australia, South America, the Indian subcontinent and the Arabian Peninsula. It eventually broke away from these landmasses, becoming isolated by a geological process known as plate tectonics.

Researchers, according to Jamieson, theorize that during a warmer phase in Antarctica's history rivers flowed across the newly discovered landscape, eventually draining toward the continental coastline formed as other landmasses moved away.

As the climate cooled, small glaciers appeared on the hills near the rivers , which led to deepening of the valleys as a result of glacial erosion.

“When this growth of glacial ice occurred, the environment between the base of the ice and the landscape became exceptionally cold, and under these conditions she could no longer destroy the landscape. Instead, the landscape remained preserved for perhaps 34 million years,” Jamieson explained.

Source: timesofindia