One of the Earth’s last great frontiers, Antarctica presents beneath its hidden depths a forbidding environment for life. Beneath the snow, ice and bitter cold of Antarctica, scientists have discovered a network of lakes that fill and empty with rapidly flowing water.
These lakes, some stretching across hundreds of square miles, fill and drain so dramatically that the movement can be seen by a satellite looking at the icy surface of the southern continent.
Study author, Helen Fricker said:
Global warming did not create these big pockets of water, they lie beneath some 2,300 feet of compressed snow and ice, too deep to be affected by temperature changes on the surface but knowing how they behave is important to understanding the impact of climate change on the Antarctic ice sheet.
If the thick ice cap that covers Antarctica melts the result would be 23-foot rise in world sea levels. Computer models are not helpful in showing the movement of sub glacial water so new computer models will be needed that shows the ongoing processes on the ice sheet.
To determine the underwater features and detect the sub glacial lakes, data from NASA’s ICESat was used by Fricker and her colleagues.
The satellite detected dips in the surface that moved around as the hidden lakes drained and filled beneath the surface glaciers, which are moving rivers of ice.
The project took observations from 2003 through 2006 of the Whillans and Mercer Ice Streams, two of the fast-moving glaciers that carry ice from the Antarctic interior to the floating ice sheet that covers parts of the Ross Sea.