(ORDO NEWS) — Under the thickness of the Antarctic ice, scientists have discovered a tectonic relief that has a huge impact on the melting of the largest ice shelf on the continent.
Hidden from prying eyes, the rock has controlled the flow of water around the giant Ross Ice Shelf for hundreds of millions of years. This shelf currently acts as a critical buffer to prevent more Antarctic ice from being washed out into the open ocean.
In 2019, researchers discovered under-ice rock thanks to the IcePod scanning system, which measures the height of the ice shelf, its thickness and internal structure, as well as the magnetic and gravitational forces of the rock on which this ice rests.
Essentially, IcePod can peer through hundreds of meters of ice to reveal underlying rock structures that can’t be seen from satellites.
In a new paper , the researchers report that the geological boundary between East and West Antarctica has created a barrier beneath the continent that protects the Ross Ice Shelf from warmer waters and further melting.
“The geologic boundary makes the seabed in eastern Antarctica much deeper than in the west, and this affects how ocean water circulates under the ice shelf,” says Columbia University marine geologist Kirsty Tinto.
As a result, this barrier slows down the drift of approximately 20% of all Antarctic ground ice into the ocean. If all this mass of frozen water ended up in warmer regions, then sea levels would rise by as much as 11.6 meters.
This is critical for many coastal areas and settlements around the world – they are unlikely to have survived such a massive flood.
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