In the depths of the Antarctic ice sheet, researchers have uncovered the remains of lost, ancient continents.
Based on the data collected by the GOCE (Gravity field and Ocean Circulation Explorer) satellite of the European Space Agency (ESA), which between 2009 and 2013 studied the Earth’s gravity, combined with seismological data, a team of researchers from the University of Kiel in Germany and British Antarctic Research has obtained a never-before-seen three-dimensional map of the continental plates, in particular of Antarctica.
What they found took everyone by surprise: the remains of various long-lost continents.
According to the authors of the new study, the recently published map will help to understand how plate tectonics and deep mantle dynamics interact.
“These images are revolutionizing our ability to study the least-known continent on Earth,” said Fausto Ferraccioli, one of the authors of the study.
“In East Antarctica, we see an exciting mosaic of geological features that reveal fundamental similarities and differences between the crust beneath Antarctica and other continents it was joined to until 160 million years ago,” added Ferraccioli.
Within the framework of that same study, it has also been discovered that western Antarctica has a thinner crust and lithosphere compared to East Antarctica, which is composed of old cratons (older and stable parts of the lithosphere) and younger orogens (mountainous crumpled continental plates).
But not only have experts found the remnants of lost continents, but experts also say that the new study will help understand how the structure of Antarctica impacts the movements of ice sheets, as well as how regions on the ‘frozen’ continent will react as ice sheets melt.
“It is exciting to see that direct use of the gravity gradients, which were measured for the first time ever with GOCE, leads to a fresh independent look inside Earth – even below a thick sheet of ice,” says ESA’s GOCE mission scientist Roger Haagmans.
“It also provides a context of how continents were possibly connected in the past before they drifted apart owing to plate motion.”
The continent of Antarctica is or planets southernmost continent and is home to the geographic south pole. With a total area of 14,000,000 square kilometers, Antarctica is our planet’s fifth largest continent.
Antarctica is almost twice the size of Australia and as much as 98 percent of Antarctica is covered by thick ice sheets that average around 1.9 kilometers.
Antarctica is our planet’s coldest, driest, and windiest continent, and also features the highest average elevation of all the continents