A large river under the Antarctic glacier

A large flow many kilometers below the surface of the Antarctic ice cap could indicate faster melting in the region.

A large flow many kilometers below the surface of the Antarctic ice cap could indicate faster melting in the region.

It can be difficult to predict what effect a future warming climate will have on the melting of Antarctic ice. Now scientists have discovered one more factor that needs to be included in the computational model.

A river about 460 kilometers long bends under the glacier cap and draws water from a land area larger than Germany and France combined.

It is scientists at University College London who discovered the river which they say is bigger than the Thames in England. It was radar images from the air that revealed the flow of water, and now people fear that such a high flow of water may accelerate melting.

Radar images show a 460 km long large river under ice in Antarctica.

“The area covered by the study is large enough to raise the surface of the world’s oceans by 4.3 meters if all the ice melts. How much melts and how fast is related to how slippery the rock is under the ice. This newly discovered flow system can have a major impact on evolution,” says Professor Martin Siegert, one of the researchers who conducted the study.

Water flow speeds up the process

“This is not the first time we have found a water flow under the Antarctic ice cap. But this discovery means that there is a whole water flow system, interconnected by rivers and streams under the ice, just as if there was no ice above.”

Water under a glacier cap can form in a variety of ways. Solution water from the surface can get down through cracks. The friction of sliding glaciers against bedrock also generates heat that can melt ice below the glacier.

The research was carried out with small aircraft.

The study shows that the melting from the base of the Antarctic ice cap is so great that it forms a large river, and this can significantly speed up the overall melting because this water reduces the frictional resistance as the sliding glacier tongue slides into the sea.

Uncharted territory

The results were obtained after radar studies from aircraft. They gave a certain insight into the situation under the ice cap, and were then supplemented by calculations of the movements of so much water.

The scientists focused on the off-road and little-studied area in the Weddel Sea and closer to the glaciers from both the east and the west.

The scientists say that such a large river system has not been discovered until now, proof of how much people still don’t know about this continent.

“If we don’t account for this hydrological system, we underestimate how fast the ice will melt,” says study leader Christine Dow in a press release.

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