A Supermassive Network of Lakes Found Beneath Antarctica

Scientists from the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) have discovered a massive network of lakes located beneath the ice of East Antarctica’s largest glacier.

Using seismic equipment on the Totten glacier, scientists managed to find out what is located beneath, revealing supermassive subglacial lakes that they say could greatly change our estimates of sea level rise on the icy continent.

The Totten glacier, which stretches a fascinating 30 kilometers across is around two kilometers thick. In fact, it is considered the largest ice catchment and draining point for the East Antarctic ice sheet.

Antarctica. Image Credit: NASA
Antarctica. Image Credit: NASA

It holds so much water that if it were to melt, global sea levels would rise by as much as seven meters.

Worryingly, it has been found that the Totten glacier is also thinning faster than any other glaciers located in the area.

The team of scientists was hoping to reveal what lies beneath the glacier, whether its bedrock, ocean or water trapped in subglacial lakes, as each of these impacts the glacier in a different way.

“If there’s bedrock under the glacier, it’s sticky and will move more slowly, but if there’s water or soft sediments, the glacier will move faster,” explained Ben Galton-Fenzi, a glaciologist with the Australian Antarctic Division, in a statement.

To find out, the researchers detonated explosions at a depth of around two meters beneath the glacier’s surface.

As the chargers were detonated, the explosion sent out soundwaves that researchers then tracked by using geophones as the soundwaves bounced off layers of what lies beneath the glacier. The soundwaves echo differently off layers of ice, rock or water.

And that’s how they found out that the glacier sits on a supermassive network of subglacial lakes that could be contributing to the glacier’s retreat.

“This study has shown us for the first time that there are substantial amounts of water contained in subglacial lakes, not far from the ocean, that we know very little about,” Galton-Fenzi, said.

“So this research is critical in helping us predict how the melting of Antarctic glaciers will change the world’s oceans into the future.”

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