Of popular mechanics

Among the million square kilometers of the Antarctic, under the snow, which are thousands of feet thick, are earth and rock like any other continent. Scientists say today they have discovered under Antarctica a collection of hidden continents left over millions of years ago.

The researchers from Kiel University in Germany and the British Antarctic Survey who made this surprising find relied on data from the European Space Agency's GOCE satellite. GOCE was a simple satellite that measured the impact of Earth's orbit on its orbit. By accurately measuring Earth's gravity, the scientists were able to draw a clear picture of the structure and composition of the planet below the surface.

"These gravitational images are revolutionizing our ability to study the least understood continent of the world, the Antarctic," study author Fausto Ferraccioli said in a press release.

Using the data from this satellite, the researchers looked at the Antarctic under the ice. They discovered geological structures called kratons, which are the core regions of most tectonic plates. They also found orogens, which are folded regions of plates that are the precursors of the mountain ranges. By studying the amount of cratons and orogens, researchers can compare Antarctic continental plates with other regions of the world.

Picture credits: University of Kiel / BAS

East Antarctica, for example, is a patchwork of old cratons and younger orogens. The researchers found similar structures in Australia and India. The West Antarctic, however, has a thinner and more homogeneous crust, which resembles the southern tip of South America.

This new information informs scientists about the emergence of the Antarctic continent. More importantly, it tells scientists what will happen to it in the future. The Antarctic is melting pretty fast and knowing the underlying structure of the continent can tell us how that will happen and hopefully it will recover.

Subsequent experiments, such as the NASA's GRACE mission, can provide even more detail on the land beneath the Antarctic, helping scientists to paint an even clearer picture of what's under the ice. With luck, these data can help scientists save at least some of it.

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