What Lies Beneath

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Researchers found that there is a large amount of groundwater buried beneath Antarctica’s ice, a discovery that confirms decades of speculation, New Scientist reported.

Scientists have come across “ice streams” which they say are responsible for bringing much of Antarctica’s ice to the ocean.

“They’re sort of like water slides in that if there’s water at the base of your ice stream, it can go very quickly but if there’s no water there, you can’t go very fast,” said Chloe Gustafson, the lead author of a new study on Antarctica’s underground water.

In their paper, Gustafson and her team studied the seismic activity and electromagnetic fields beneath the Whillans ice stream in western Antarctica. Their findings showed a kilometer-thick layer of sediment saturated with a combination of fresh glacier water and old saltwater.

The team said that previous research has unveiled mainly shallow pools of water sitting between the ice streams and the ground below. But this reservoir had 10 times as much water as the shallower pools.

Despite showing that Antarctica packs groundwater, the authors explained that the discovery could be essential for controlling the flow rate of the ice streams, a process that is crucial to understand for predicting the effects of climate change on sea levels.

“Ultimately, we want to understand how quickly that ice is going to flow off the continent into the ocean and affect that sea-level rise,” Gustafson concluded.

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