Antarctica seen naked for the first time!

Antarctica without ice
© British Antarctic Survey

What's under all that ice?

Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey, along with collaborators from around the world, have created the most detailed map yet of what is hidden under Antarctica's ice sheets. Using radio echo sounding measurements, seismic techniques, satellite readings and cartographic data, they have created the details composite views that you can see above and below, revealing previously hidden mountain ranges, plains, and valleys cut by deep gorges.

"Several features of the bed have been revealed for the first time including a new deepest point. The bed under the Byrd Glacier in Victoria Land is 2,870 metres below sea level making it the lowest point on any of the Earth’s continental plates," writes the BAS.

© BAS

The color-coded map above shows ice thickness over the frozen continent.

From this work, some key findings:

  • The volume of ice in Antarctica is 4.6% greater than previously thought.
  • The mean bed depth of Antarctica, at 95 metres, is 60 m lower than estimated.
  • The volume of ice that is grounded with a bed below sea level is 23% greater than originally thought meaning there is a larger volume of ice that is susceptible to rapid melting. The ice that rests just below sea level is vulnerable to warming from ocean currents.
  • The total potential contribution to global sea level rise from Antarctica is 58 metres, similar to previous estimates but a much more accurate measurement.
  • The new deepest point, under Byrd Glacier, is around 400 metres deeper than the previously identified deepest point

Useful to model the impacts of climate change

These details maps and measurements will be extremely useful to model how Antarctic ice will behave as the planet heads up:

“The Bedmap2 project is about more than making a map of the landscape. The data we've put together on the height and thickness of the ice and the shape of the landscape below are fundamental to modelling the behaviour of the ice sheet in the future. This matters because in some places, ice along the edges of Antarctica is being lost rapidly to the sea, driving up sea level. Knowing how much the sea will rise is of global importance, and these maps are a step towards that goal," says Dr Hamish Pritchard, co-lead author of the study.

You can read the original research paper here (pdf), and watch two videos produced by the researchers at the bottom of this page.

Via British Antarctic Survey, HuffPo Green

See also: Canada's glaciers are "headed for an irreversible melt"

Tags: Antarctica