Beneath Antarctica’s ice, intriguing evidence of lost continents


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A brand new map reveals the remnants of historical continents lurking beneath Antarctica’s ice.

The map exhibits that East Antarctica is made up of a number of cratons, that are the cores of continents that got here earlier than, in keeping with research chief Jörg Ebbing, a geoscientist at Kiel College in Germany.

“This remark leads again to the break-up of the supercontinent Gondwana and the hyperlink of Antarctica to the encircling continents,” Ebbing instructed Dwell Science. The findings assist reveal elementary info about Earth’s tectonics and the way Antarctica’s land and ice sheets work together, he wrote in an e-mail. [Antarctica: The Ice-Covered Bottom of the World (Photos)]

As a result of the continent is so distant and buried in ice, Antarctica is a little bit of a clean spot on the geologic map, Ebbing stated. The researchers used knowledge from the European Area Company’s Gravity area and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) satellite tv for pc to fill within the blanks. GOCE orbited Earth from 2009 to 2013, gathering knowledge on the planet’s gravity area. Gravity’s pull differs very barely from one level on Earth to a different, relying on adjustments in topography and the density of the planet’s inside.

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By measuring these adjustments, GOCE supplied the information to make a full gravity map of the planet. Ebbing and his workforce used different satellite tv for pc knowledge to nearly strip the ice from Antarctica to give attention to the bedrock beneath.

Once they checked out this layer, they discovered proof of the continent’s historical past as a part of Gondwana, a supercontinent fabricated from the fashionable Southern Hemisphere continents, which broke up about 180 million years in the past. East Antarctica’s crust is thicker than West Antarctica’s: It is between 25 miles and 37 miles (40 and 60 kilometers) thick, in contrast with the West’s 12 miles and 22 miles (20 and 35 km) thick. The East Antarctic crust can also be a mishmash of previous cratons, Ebbing stated, together with the Mawson Craton, which has an identical fragment in southern Australia.

The brand new knowledge reveal extra complexity in East Antarctica’s historical cratons than beforehand identified, Ebbing stated. The trendy-day continent can also be host to areas known as orogens, that are crumpled-up areas the place historical continents would have rammed collectively to construct mountains.

One other intriguing discovery was a low-density space beneath Marie Byrd Land in West Antarctica. The existence of this low-density portion of the higher mantle — the layer of the planet beneath the crust — could also be because of an historical mantle plume, Ebbing and his colleagues wrote Nov. 5 within the journal Scientific Reviews. Mantle plumes are locations within the mantle the place scorching blobs of rock rise just like the lumps in a lava lamp. They’ll typically result in the formation of volcanoes. The Antarctic mantle plume would date again to someday within the final 66 million years, in keeping with the researchers.

Initially revealed on Dwell Science.

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