Scientists Discover Hidden Landscape Bigger Than Belgium 'Frozen In Time' Under Ice For Millions Of Years

By Abdul Rafay in Science and Technology On 28th October 2023
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A landscape that has been hidden from the outside world for millions of years has been found by scientists.

Credit: Nature Communications

Before you wonder, no, this is not really a story from Journey to the Center of the Earth, where long-extinct animals continue to roam some far-off planet beneath our feet.

Even if it would be compelling, this is still a very fascinating discovery regarding a specific region of Antarctica.

It is a terrain made up of valleys and hills that were carved by prehistoric rivers and may have been covered in ice for over 34 million years.

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It's possible that over that entire period, this terrain has remained unchanged and isolated from the outside world.

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But one thing is for sure, no human has ever seen it because it has been frozen for far too long.

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Stewart Jamieson, a glaciologist, told AFP: "It is an undiscovered landscape — no one's laid eyes on it."

He added: "What is exciting is that it's been hiding there in plain sight."

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This is because the scientists just used a different strategy to the data they already had, rather than using any fresh data to determine the landscape.

By using a process known as radio-echo sounding, which involves flying over the terrain and sending radio waves into it before analyzing the echoes, one can get the greatest possible view of the terrain.

Due to the immense area of Antarctica, however, this is frequently impracticable. Consequently, scientists used previously taken satellite photos and, incredibly, were able to "trace out" the "ghost image" of the ridges and valleys beneath the ice.

The vanished landscape surfaced when they compared this with the radio echo data.

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Although the exact length of time the land has been covered by ice is unknown at this time, experts believe it has been at least 14 million years and possibly much more.

The region is about the size of Belgium, with a total area of 32,000 square kilometers, or 12,000 square miles.

It was 'stuck in time' when the ice came along, having previously been home to trees, plants, and maybe livestock.

Sadly, human-caused climate change poses a threat to the recently found terrain.

Although the area is now covered by hundreds of kilometers of ice, Jamieson cautioned that it is uncertain what could trigger a "runaway reaction" that would lead the ice to melt, thus the possibility of it becoming revealed is a "long way off."

There have been other discoveries made in the vicinity of the South Pole recently. An amazing animal community was discovered during a study team led by Greenpeace's voyage in 2022 into the Weddell Sea surrounding Antarctica.

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There existed an enormous diversity of life, including deep-ocean sponges and corals. In terms of richness, scientists have even likened the reefs to tropical coral reefs.

Diving around the South Pole is definitely not what you'd anticipate.

All of this simply serves to highlight how little, despite our enormous advancements, we actually know about the planet.

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