Earlier this week, scientists discovered a vast hidden landscape of hills and valleys, shaped by ancient rivers, under the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. This landscape, which is bigger than Belgium, has been untouched for potentially more than 34 million years.
This discovery was made possible through satellite observations and ice-penetrating radar. According to an AFP report, the researchers sent radio waves into the ice and analysed the echoes, a technique known as radio-echo sounding. They also said that the land underneath the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is less well-known than the surface of Mars.
"What is exciting is that it's been hiding there in plain sight," glaciologist and lead study author Stewart Jamieson told AFP. The researchers used existing satellite images of the surface to "trace out the valleys and ridges" more than two kilometres (1.6 miles) below. When this data was combined with radio-echo-sounding data, scientists observed an image of a river-carved landscape of valleys and sharply peaked hills similar to some regions on the Earth's surface, AFP explained in its report.
The area spreads across 32,000 square kilometres (12,000 square miles) and was once home to trees, forests and probably animals, the report added. The researchers are confident that it has been at least 14 million years since it was last exposed but Jamieson feels it could be more than 34 million years, when Antarctica first froze over.
Notably, scientists have warned that global warming could pose a threat to this discovery and cause it to melt. In their study, published in Nature Communications, the researchers said current atmospheric conditions are similar to those that existed between 14 and 34 million years ago when it was three to seven degrees Celsius warmer.
However, Jamieson told AFP that since the landscape is hundreds of kilometres away from the edge of the ice, a possible exposure is far off. However, there is a lack of clarity regarding the tipping point for the frozen landscape’s melting.
Last year, scientists discovered a city-size lake under the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which was named Lake Snow Eagle after one of the Chinese aircraft that discovered it, a Live Science report said. Scientists had said this hidden lake could have a record of the entire history of the ice sheet.