Armed With Data, Scientists Still Mystified by Antarctica's Hidden Mountains

By Eliza Strickland | February 24, 2009 2:25 pm

Antarctica planeAntarctic researchers have succeeded in mapping a mountain range that is as tall and impressive as the Alps and yet invisible to the naked eye, since the entire range is hidden beneath miles of ice. The international expedition (which 80beats covered when it set off in October) used radar, gravity sensors, and other instruments mounted on airplanes to chart the contours of the mighty Gamburtsev mountains, but say the results mostly revealed new mysteries. For example, researchers expected to see a plateau formation, indicating that the peaks had been worn down over millennia. Instead, says researcher Robin Bell: “They are incredibly rough mountains — they look like alligators’ teeth” [Nature News].

“The surprising thing was that not only is this mountain range the size of the Alps, but it looks quite similar to the (European) Alps, with high peaks and valleys,” said Fausto Ferraccioli, a geophysicist at the British Antarctic Survey…. He told Reuters that the mountains would probably have been ground down almost flat if the ice sheet had formed slowly. But the presence of jagged peaks might mean the ice formed quickly, burying a landscape under up to 4 km (2.5 miles) of ice [Reuters]. Researchers say that understanding the behavior of polar ice sheets is crucial to scientists trying to predict the impacts of global warming.

Another mystery is the age of the mountains. Mountain ranges like the Alps and the Himalayas formed when continental plates collided, but this range sits in the middle of an ancient chunk of crust, where geologists had thought there had been no major tectonic activity for at least 540 million years…. If the range is indeed at least 540 million years old, then it is remarkably well preserved for its age. Another possibility is that the Gamburtsevs formed much more recently, as a result of volcanic activity. But preliminary results from the expedition don’t show the large magnetic anomalies that would typically be expected when flying over volcanic terrain, says Ferraccioli [Nature News].

To conduct the study, researchers flew aircraft 75,000 miles over six weeks braving average temperatures of -30 Celsius mapping the ancient Gamburtsev range [Telegraph].

Related Content:
80beats: Expedition Sets Off for Antarctic Mountains That “Shouldn’t Be There”
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Image: Robin Bell / Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

  • Chris

    Mountains of Madness!

  • Bruce

    Just a weird thought, but is it possible that variations in density of the underlying bedrock, combined with the weight of the overlying snow cap, could actually be causing the mountains to “grow” upward even now? Maybe a “leaching” effect?

  • April

    yup good ole Lovecraft had it figured out decades before any of these guys 😛

  • bill

    mountains of madness!!!

  • ditto

    I would suppose it to be Hapgood’s theory of Earth Crust Displacement. Einstein agreed with it-
    Hapgood claimed that towards the end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, the extensive mass of glacial ice covering the northern continents caused the lithosphere to ‘slip’ over the asthenosphere, moving Antarctica, during a period of at most several centuries, from a position in the middle latitudes to its current location, and at the same time rotating the other continents. Antarctica’s movement to the polar region precipitated the development of its ice cap. Similarly, by shifting the northern ice sheets out of the arctic zone, the end of the ice age was facilitated.

    Support for this theory was given in a forward by Albert Einstein to one of Hapgood’s books in 1953:
    In a polar region there is continual deposition of ice, which is not symmetrically distributed about the pole. The earth’s rotation acts on these unsymmetrically deposited masses, and produces centrifugal momentum that is transmitted to the rigid crust of the earth. The constantly increasing centrifugal momentum produced in this way will, when it has reached a certain point, produce a movement of the earth’s crust over the rest of the earth’s body… (Hapgood, 1958, p. 1)

  • dan

    Is there any way in which we can melt / speed up the melting of the ice so’s that we can take a look?
    Also, didn’t Graham Hancock go on about this Hapgood theory in ‘Fingerprints of the Gods’?

  • http://Hancock Frank

    Ditto on Ditto. Read Hapgood’s book. He makes the most compelling argument. Much of it supported by current ice core drilling, revealing temperate zone vegetation/ fossils below.

  • Jacquelyn

    I hate to burst the Hapgood bubble, but the fossils of temperate vegetation are millions of years old, and fit quite well with what we know about continental drift. It takes a lot longer than a few centuries to grow a two-mile-thick ice sheet, and for penguins to evolve to flightless, cold-adapted birds.

  • John

    Why does “global warming” have to be inserted into this article about ancient frozen mountains?? Did the dinosaurs release too many greenhouse gases with their farts and freeze the Antarctic, wouldn’t that have melted them instead?? You can’t read any science article these days without that specious, politically-correct term being inserted for social-engineering reasons.

  • Eliza Strickland

    @ John: The researchers want to understand the way ice sheets in Antarctica form, move, and melt because they think it will help them predict what will happen to the poles if global warming trends continue. I didn’t insert this into the article without basis, it’s the researchers’ explicit goal. Here’s a passage from the Reuters article:

    Ferraccioli said the maps were “the first page of a new book” of understanding how ice sheets behave, which in turn could help predict how the ice will react to global warming.

    Antarctica, bigger than the United States, has been swathed in ice for about 35 million years, and contains enough of it to raise world sea levels by about 57 meters (187 feet) if it ever all melted. So even a fractional melt would affect coasts around the globe.

    “Unless we have a basic understanding of how ice sheets work, any sort of predictive model won’t match reality,” Ferraccioli said.

  • Dave

    Decipher, Decipher! Stel Pavlou’s Decipher!

  • Chris

    @John and @ Eliza: I think it’s a good bet that the researchers, needing to increase their project’s chances of funding, added that global warming language. Worked, didn’t it?

  • Dan

    This is scientific information. Please keep your right wing political agenda out of it.

  • Graham

    I think this is just further confirmation of Hugh A. Brown’s theory, as detailed in his book, “Cataclysms of the Earth,” that the earth periodically tilts on it axis and wipes out species and civilisations. It would account for the rapid freezing of this mountain range and the many unexplained phenomenon such as the discovery of snap frozen mammoths in Siberia and Alaska with undigested tropical vegetation in their stomachs.
    It also accounts for the fact this modern era has little or no written history going back more than 6 to 7000 years.
    Velikovsky came to the same conclusion as Brown about the earth periodically tilting on its axis but attibuted it to a different cause.
    For too long, the research of people like Brown and Velikovsky has been ignored but, the increasing oscilliation of the poles may very well prove Brown’s theory with the growing imbalance between the polar ice of the North and South polar regions.

  • joe

    re: Graham – spot on, until further scientific data offers a better hypothisis on the flash frozen mammoth mystery, hapgood’s theory seems the most plausible. furthermore, is the atalantic magnetic anomoly a precursor to another “event” in the making?

  • Chris

    Regarding Jaquelyn’s comments: “It takes a lot longer than a few centuries to grow a two-mile-thick ice sheet, and for penguins to evolve to flightless, cold-adapted birds”, and “the fossils of temperate vegetation are millions of years old”. It seems to me that neither of these facts invalidates Hapgood’s theory, since the underlying continent is many millions of years old, shifting around in a cataclysm doesn’t change that. And wouldn’t those penguins have migrated from their previous cold spot to the new one?

  • Jock Doubleday
  • Brian

    Isn’t it a bit, ah, premature, to label the Gamburtsev’s “ancient”?

    You’ve got a mountain range that Robin Bell says have the physical characteristics of a young range. The whole range Shouldn’t Be There according to the linked article

    Expedition Sets Off for Antarctic Mountains That “Shouldn’t Be There”

    Of course that merely means that the formative mechanisms are currently unknown. However some caution ought to be used in characterizations.

    Now maybe the range merely looks young because it’s frozen in a giant ice cube. OK, makes sense, except the ice cap has only been there for 14 million years. That’s not a long time in geological terms. Doesn’t quite go with “ancient”.

    All (most?) continental crust, from what I understand, is ancient. However there can still be deformative activities in recent geological times applied to that ancient crust. In fact, correct me if I’m wrong, but “young” rock typically means material that has cycled through the mantle or been subjected to metamorphic processes.

  • louisvuitton78

    Thanks for another great article. Where else could anyone get that kind of information in such an ideal way of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I am on the look for such info.

  • Solaris22

    Dont think me a ‘Poleshift-nut’ but-
    If North AMerica was under ice and SIberia not- then is it not possible that perhaps Australia was under an ice-cap and Antartica was much like todays New Zealand?
    Not many people look at the world as a whole…

  • Cold Wind

    Shades of Velikovsky! But only a moron believes the crap about ‘global warming’. Scientists still sucking up to get grant money.


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