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Map reveals Antarctica’s warm underbelly
©Vincent van Zeijst

Map reveals Antarctica’s warm underbelly


A new map termed ‘the best yet produced’ of the warmth coming up from the rocks beneath the Antarctic ice sheet has been developed by British Antarctic Survey researchers.

This ‘geothermal heat flux’ is key data required by scientists in order to model how Antarctica could react to climate change.

If the rockbed’s temperature is raised, it makes it easier for the ice above to move. If global warming is already forcing change on the ice sheet, a higher flux could accelerate matters.

Yasmina Martos, currently affiliated with NASA, said: “The heat coming from the Earth’s interior is important to understand the overall conditions that control the dynamics at the base of the ice sheet and hence the ice flow.

“One result of our study is that the heat flux is higher underneath west Antarctica, where more ice is currently melting, than underneath east Antarctica.”

The BAS team inferred that the likely warmth of rocks emanates from their magnetism, which can be sensed by instruments flown across the surface on-board planes.

The new map is said to represent a 30-50% improvement on previous efforts. It supports the idea that east and west Antarctica are very different provinces.

One of the great advances in polar science in the past decade is the recognition that there is an extensive hydrological network under the ice sheet.

One research project that will see an immediate benefit from the map’s data is the quest to drill the oldest ice on the continent.

Europe, the US, China and others are seeking a location where they can collect a core of frozen material that contains a record of past climate stretching back at least 1.5 million years.

Information about atmospheric conditions including CO2 levels can be deciphered from tiny air bubbles trapped in the ice.

Pan European Networks Ltd