Satellite Reveals Remnants Of Lost Continents Under Antarctica

Posted: Nov 11 2018, 8:43am CST | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
Satellite Reveals Remnants of Lost Continents under Antarctica
GOCE map of Antarctica on bedrock topography. Credit: British Antarctic Survey

The gravity data shows that West Antarctica has a thinner crust and lithosphere compared to that of East Antarctica.

Researchers have discovered remnants of lost continents hidden deep under the Antarctic ice using gravity data from ESA's GOCE satellite.

The GOCE (Gravity field and Ocean Circulation Explorer) satellite orbited Earth for more than four years, from 2009 to 2013. By using gravity dataset from GOCE, researchers have gained new insights into the structure and properties of Antarctica that is one of the most important but least understood parts of Earth.

GOCE looks into land masses by measuring changes in Earth's gravity field. Since the masses in continents and deep in the Earth's interior are not consistent or equally distributed, the gravitational force therefore varies from one place to another and these gravity anomalies can be used to resolve structures deep below the surface.

During its four-year mission, GOCE flew an altitude of just 255 km, more than 500 km nearer than normal Earth-observing satellites and measured Earth’s gravity more precisely than any mission before. That distance also allowed GOCE satelltie to take highly accurate measurements of the Earth's gravity over Antarctica, which is a relatively challenging place due to its remoteness and thick ice sheet cover.

The satellite gravity data, when combined with seismological data, produced more accurate 3D maps of Antarctic deep interior and provided researchers with a great tool to investigate the structure of the least explored region on Earth.

“These gravity images are revolutionizing our ability to study the least understood continent on Earth, Antarctica,” said co-author Fausto Ferraccioli, Science Leader of Geology and Geophysics at British Antarctic Survey (BAS).

“In East Antarctica we see an exciting mosaic of geological features that reveal fundamental similarities and differences between the crust beneath Antarctica and other continents it was joined to until 160 million years ago.”

Gravity data shows that West Antarctica has a thinner crust and upper mantle compared to that of East Antarctica, which is made up of a mosaic of old cratons separated by younger orogens, revealing its links with Africa, India, Australia, Zealandia and South America.

“It is exciting to see that direct use of the gravity gradients, which were measured for the first time ever with GOCE, leads to a fresh independent look inside Earth – even below a thick sheet of ice,” said ESA’s GOCE mission scientist Roger Haagmans. “It also provides context of how continents were possibly connected in the past before they drifted apart owing to plate motion.”

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.

 

 

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