When you think of Antarctica, you automatically think of icebergs, snow, and lots of penguins. However, scientists are starting to believe that this wasn’t always the case. Researchers from Durham University led by Professor Stewart Jamieson have uncovered an ancient landscape beneath the ice that dates back millions of years, which is pretty exciting.
Glaciologists used satellite imagery for their study.
The imagery allowed them to look under two kilometers of ice in the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS), and they were shocked to discover an ancient river landscape there.
Their research, published in the October 2023 edition of Nature Communications, revealed the team’s discovery of “an extensive relic pre-glacial landscape preserved beneath the EAIS despite millions of years of ice cover.”
As if this wasn’t exciting enough, the existence of this area suggests that there might be “other similar, as yet undiscovered, ancient landscapes beneath the EAIS.”
Jamieson and his colleagues have also wondered what lay beneath the ice.
Talking to VICE, he revealed that the world beneath the ice has been a particular interest of scientists as ancient landscapes can tell us a lot about how our current ecological systems were shaped and now operate.
“We’ve had a longtime interest in, effectively, the shape of the land beneath the ice sheet in Antarctica,” he explained.
“And in particular, how the shape of that landscape interacts with the ice itself in terms of controlling it, but also in terms of recording how it has behaved in the past, so that it leaves a signature, or a fingerprint.”
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This discovery can also provide a blueprint for responding to climate change.
Jamieson continued by explaining that fully understanding how Antarctica has evolved over millennia can also be helpful in combatting human-driven climate change. After all, the continent once had a much warmer environment.
“What we’re trying to do is identify where we can really see an obvious picture in the land beneath the ice, and map it out,” he said.
Jamieson’s research filled in some of the gaps left by previous studies and found that the ancient landscape beneath the ice dates back about 34 million years, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and Antarctica as we know it was much different.
“The implication is that this must be a very old landscape that was carved by rivers before the ice sheet itself grew,” Jamieson explained.
“That’s why we can say that the landscape itself is likely older than 34 million years. That’s a time when the climate was a bit warmer. There was vegetation and plants growing on Antarctica and there wasn’t big-scale ice.”
This was certainly a fascinating discovery and one scientists hope to delve deeper into in years to come.