Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Last Great Antarctic Expedition?

A mysterious range of mountains as large as the Alps is hidden in the heart of Antarctica under 4 kilometers of ice. A great multinational expedition of scientists is headed to one of the least hospitable places on Earth, with conditions akin to space exploration in many ways, to solve the riddle of mountains that defy geological explanation.

The Gamburtsevs don't fit into the way geologists tell us mountain ranges form: either through the collision of tectonic plates, or convection currents in the fluid interior of the earth forcing up volcanic ranges. The last collision geologists beleive could have created a mountain range was so far in the past that the mountains should have eroded away long ago. There are no models of the Earth that show a volcanic range could have formed in the middle of Antarctica.

As Dr. Robin Bell, a U.S. Scientist with the expedition puts it:

"I like to say it's rather like being an archaeologist and opening up a tomb in a pyramid and finding an astronaut sitting inside. It shouldn't be there."

The area is also believed to offer ice that may be 1,000,000 years old, 200,000 years older than any samples taken so far. Because annual ice deposits record a wealth of environmental information, this could prove to be a very important source of data about patterns in climate change.

(thanks to 4x4 offroads for the image)