They discover a giant river buried in Antarctica

A team of geologists has discovered a river system beneath the West Antarctic ice sheet. It is a giant river, 1,600 kilometers long that has layers from two different periods. One of them is between 34 and 44 million years old and the other around 85 millennia.

giant river

A discovery that surprised geologists and other scientists

Researchers from the University of Bremen and the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research in Germany, collaborated on the research. Universities and institutes from Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Sweden also participated. They published the finding this month in the scientific journal Science Advances, surprising the scientific community. Researcher Johann Klages commented: “It is exciting to imagine a gigantic river system that flowed through Antarctica and is now covered in miles of ice.”

The giant river hidden under Antarctica will allow us to better predict the loss of ice on the frozen continent. The increase in global warming makes this study crucial. Its length and location provide vital data for understanding the melting of Antarctic ice. It turns out that it is the largest river system discovered in Antarctica, so far.


Importance of the discovery on the frozen continent

The team employed ice-penetrating radar and sonar techniques to map the hidden topography. They estimate that the lower sediment formed approximately 85 million years ago, during the mid-Cretaceous. In contrast, the upper layer contains sand dating from the middle to late Eocene, about 30 to 40 million years ago. Likewise, they found a small island buried almost two kilometers deep. The island contained blocks of land separated by U-shaped valleys.

About 34 million years ago, Antarctica was ice-free and enjoyed a temperate climate. Researchers point out that the white continent was not always an isolated land mass covered in ice. 100 million years ago, it formed a central part of the supercontinent Gondwana. After the breakup of Gondwana, Antarctica became an independent continent.

During the middle Eocene, the Earth’s atmosphere had carbon dioxide levels equivalent to almost double current values. These conditions were similar to projections made for the next 150 to 200 years if greenhouse gases continue to rise. Global cooling at the end of the Eocene led to the formation of glaciers in Antarctica.

To face a future with serious climate changes, we must study the historical periods on Earth where these problems already occurred. Learning from the past better prepares us to face the future. Earth’s history offers valuable lessons for managing these challenges.

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