Gamburtsev subglacial mountains: AGAP mission accomplished

Posted: Feb 25, 2009 06:53 pm EST

(ThePoles.com) The mission to uncover secrets of the enigmatic Gamburtsev subglacial mountains has been accomplished, with the first glimpse of a landscape buried under up to 4km (2.5 miles) of ice revealed, reported the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in a press release.

British Antarctic Survey press release:

Antarcticas hidden world mission accomplished
Issue date: 24 February 2009

The mission to uncover secrets of the enigmatic Gamburtsev subglacial mountains has been accomplished, with the first glimpse of a landscape buried under up to 4km (2.5 miles) of ice revealed.

The Antarctica's Gamburstev Province (AGAP) project - one of the most ambitious, challenging and adventurous deep field Antarctic missions of the International Polar Year - has captured the first clear picture of the mysterious mountain range discovered by Russian scientists 50 years ago. The Gamburtsev subglacial mountains are thought to be the birthplace of the vast East Antarctic Ice Sheet that covers 10 million km2 of our planet.

Working for weeks at high altitude the science teams set up two remote field camps AGAP North and AGAP South on both sides of Dome A, the highest point on the ice sheet. In some of the harshest conditions imaginable with temperatures averaging at -30 Celsius, the seven-nation team flew two survey aircraft over the ice sheet. 120,000 km were flown, the equivalent of three trips around the globe. Over 20% (one fifth) of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet was explored with state of the art radar, aeromagnetic and gravity sensors.

Geophysicist Dr Fausto Ferraccioli of BAS led the UK science effort. He says,

This is a fantastic finale to the International Polar Year. We now know that not only are the mountains the size of the European Alps but they also have similar peaks and valleys. And this adds even more mystery about how the vast East Antarctic Ice Sheet formed. If the ice sheet grew slowly then we would expect to see the mountains eroded into a plateau shape. But the presence of peaks and valleys could suggest that the ice sheet formed quickly we just dont know. Our big challenge now is to dive into the data to get a better understanding of what happened.

AGAP US Co-leader Robin Bell, of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University said,

"The temperatures at our camps hovered around -30 Celsius, but three kilometers beneath us at the bottom of the ice sheet we saw liquid water in the valleys. The radar mounted on the wings of the aircraft transmitted energy through the thick ice and let us know that it was much warmer at the base of the ice sheet."

In addition to studying the origin of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, the Gamburtsev mountains, and subglacial water buried under the ice sheet, the science team will also trace ancient ice layers using radar data. This will help determine the ideal location for future deep ice coring, which will provide novel insights into past, present and future climate change. END

Owned by nobody, Antarctica is the core of Gondwanaland, the first land to form on earth. The earths fifth continent; larger than Australia, hides the files of our world's beginning. Somewhere deep in her frozen ice, lays the worlds very first rock - and plenty of oil.

Antarctica is divided into Greater (east) and Lesser (west) Antarctica. Great Antarctica is one stable plate, whereas the lesser Antarctica consists of several smaller, moving plates. The South Pole is on Greater Antarctica. Greater and lesser Antarctica is divided by the Transantarctic mountain range and there is a circle of mountains surrounding the coast.

While Mount Vinson (4,897m) on the southern part of the Sentinel Range is the highest altitude mark in Antarctica; Dome A is the highest ice feature, comprising a dome or eminence of 4,093 m elevation, located near the center of East Antarctica and approximately midway between the head of Lambert Glacier and the South Pole. It is thought to be one of the coldest naturally occurring places on Earth, with temperatures believed to reach -90 °C. (The lowest air temperature, -89.2°C, at the surface of the earth was recorded in July 1983 at Vostok, which is almost 600 m lower in elevation than Dome A.)

Neither flat nor very snowy, Antarctica's mountain ranges the size of the Alps in Europe are buried in her ice with only the summits exposed; making for pretty short climbs. Eternal deserts lay bare at places, dotted by meteorites and ancient skeletons preserved forever by the dry air. In the sky, the earths magnetic field bends, attracting meteorites and the spectacular solar winds. Katabatic winds, the strongest on earth, sweep down her plateau. The atmosphere is very thin.

Antarcticas ice sheet, 1.5 times the size of or America or Europe, is the worlds sweet water reservoir. At places pushed up to 2000ft (600m) below sea level the ice sheet can reach more than 2.5 miles (4km) in thickness.

The ice is the result of snowfall over millions of years. All this snow, frozen and preserved, tells the history of past climates. Drilling a sample shows the chemicals and gases trapped in the ice thousands of years ago. This is helpful in understanding cyclic global warming.


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Working for weeks at high altitude the science teams set up two remote field camps AGAP North and AGAP South on both sides of Dome A, the highest point on the ice sheet. In some of the harshest conditions imaginable with temperatures averaging at -30 Celsius, the seven-nation team flew two survey aircraft over the ice sheet. 120,000 km were flown, the equivalent of three trips around the globe. Over 20% (one fifth) of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet was explored with state of the art radar, aero..
in 2009 the AGAP project captured the first clear picture of the mysterious Gamburtsevs mountain range near the South Pole in East Antarctica, discovered by Russian scientists 50 years ago. Radar images revealed mountains the size of the European Alps with liquid water in valleys buried deep beneath the ice. Yesterday BBC reported that the AGAP team now believes the Gamburtsevs actually had two lives; eroding away only to come back.
Image by BAS/ antarctica.ac.uk courtesy BAS/ antarctica.ac.uk, SOURCE