In a potentially game-changing finding, scientists have discovered massive amounts of water hidden in the sediments beneath an Antarctic ice stream, which could help us better grasp how it might affect global sea levels. The latest discovery backs up what scientists had suspected.
Researchers projected that squeezing this water on the surface would result in a lake ranging in depth from 220 to 820 meters. This amount of water would be enough to submerge the 182-meter-high Statue of Unity.
The team was only able to photograph one such ice stream on the frozen planet, but they believe there are many more that can provide insight into how the system functions and changes over time in response to climate change.
The measurements of the Whillans Ice Stream were taken by them.
This groundwater, which extends for more than a kilometer and contains more than 10 times the fluid volume of the shallow hydrologic system above, was discovered and published in the journal Science.
Scripps Oceanography and Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory collaborated on the project.
“Ice streams are significant because they funnel nearly 90% of Antarctica’s ice from the interior out to the margins,” said Chloe Gustafson, a postdoctoral researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, adding that more Antarctic ice streams are likely to have groundwater beneath them.
Scientists have earlier predicted the existence of groundwater beneath the Antarctic
Scientists have long theorized about the existence of enormous amounts of groundwater beneath the Antarctic ice sheets, and its potential importance to the planet’s functioning.
They have, however, been unable to determine the size of these reserves.
The most recent measurement was made using the ground-based geophysical electromagnetic (EM) approach known as magnetotellurics during the 2018-2019 field season.
To assess subsurface resistivity, the researchers exploited fluctuations in Earth’s electric and magnetic fields.
Electromagnetic techniques were utilized to photograph shallow groundwater beneath some thin glaciers and perennially frozen places in the top 100 to 200 meters (328 to 656 feet). At the Whillans Ice Stream, the researchers used the technique to measure roughly 800 meters.
“This method hasn’t been applied in arctic regions before.” “This is a great example of the technique’s strength and how much it can add to our understanding of not only Antarctica but also Greenland and other glacier regions,” research co-author Helen Amanda Fricker said.
The findings indicated the existence of thick sediments buried beneath ice and snow from the ice bed to around five kilometers and even deeper.
“The Empire State Building up to the antenna is about 420 meters tall, at the shallow end, our water would go up the Empire State Building about halfway. At the deepest end, it’s almost two Empire State Buildings stacked on top of each other. This is significant because subglacial lakes in this area are two to 15 meters deep. That’s like one to four stories of the Empire State Building,” Gustafson said.
Groundwater may develop under comparable conditions on other planets or moons that are leaking heat from their innards, according to scientists.