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HomeworldAncient landscape formed by rivers revealed deep under Antarctic ice

Ancient landscape formed by rivers revealed deep under Antarctic ice

WASHINGTON: Antarctica has not always been a desolate land of ice and snow. Earth’s southernmost continent once was home to rivers and forests teeming with life.

Using satellite observations and ice-penetrating radar, scientists are now getting a glimpse of Antarctica’s lost world. Researchers said on Tuesday they have detected buried under the continent’s ice sheet a vast ancient landscape, replete with valleys and ridges, apparently shaped by rivers before being engulfed by glaciation long ago.

This landscape, located in East Antarctica’s Wilkes Land region bordering the Indian Ocean, covers an area roughly the size of Belgium or the US state of Maryland. The researchers said the landscape appears to date to at least 14 million years ago and perhaps beyond 34 million years ago, when Antarctica entered its deep freeze.

“The landscape is like a snapshot of the past,” said Stewart Jamieson, a professor of glaciology at Durham University in England and co-leader of the study published in the journal Nature Communications.

“It is difficult to know what this lost world might have looked like before the ice came along, but it was certainly warmer back then. Depending how far back in time you go, you might have had climates that ranged anywhere from the climate of present-day Patagonia through to something more approaching tropical. Ancient palm tree pollen has been discovered from Antarctica, not far around the coast from our study site,” Jamieson added.

Such an environment likely would have been populated by wildlife, Jamieson added, though the region’s fossil record is too incomplete to indicate which animals may have inhabited it.

The ice above the ancient landscape measures about 2.2km to 3km thick, according to study co-leader Neil Ross, a professor of polar science and environmental geophysics at Newcastle University in England.

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