Scientists have discovered an area near the South Pole where the base of the Antarctic Ice Leaf is unexpectedly fleeing rapidly.
Using the radar to look through three km of ice, the team discovered that some of the ice that covered an area of twice the size of Greater London seemed to be missing. The results will be published this week in the journal Scientific Reports.
This new study explains how an unusual amount of geothermal heat has melted, and it continues to melt, based on ice, which causes ice sheets to fall downwards.
The team considers that the heat source is a combination of unusually radioactive rocks and hot water from the bottom of the ground. This heat melts on the basis of the ice layer, producing melting water that drains beneath the ice layer that fills the subglacial lakes. The presence of this extra water can help lubricate the ice that flows rapidly in this area.
The lead author of Dr. Tom Jordan of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in Cambridge says: "The merging process that we observed probably has been going on for thousands or maybe even millions of years and does not directly contribute to the change of ice.
"However, in the future, extra water on the ice sheet can make this region more sensitive to external factors such as climate change."
The study compiled data using a BAS aircraft as part of the PolarGAP project. This international project, financed by the European Space Agency, with researchers from Norway, Denmark and the United Kingdom, sought to fill the gap in satellite gravity data across the South Pole.
Critically for this study, scientists also collected radar data that revealed the thickness, structure, and conditions at the base of the ice layer.
Dr. Jordan added: "This was a really exciting project, exploring one of the last fully-researched regions of our planet. Our results were quite unexpected, as many people thought that this region of Antarctica was made of old and cold rocks, which They had little impact on the ice sheet above. We show that even in the old continental interior, the underlying geology can have a significant impact on ice. "
The co-author Dr. René Forsberg, from the Technical University of Denmark, says: "This was a great example of how nations work together they can explore the most challenging regions of our planet. It is also an example of how a project – originally designed to increase satellite data of the European Space Agency – could produce completely unexpected scientific results. "
Image credit: Tom Jordan in the British Antarctic Survey.