Scientists discover hidden landscape “frozen in time” under Antarctic ice for millions of years

Scientists revealed Tuesday that they had discovered a vast, hidden landscape of hills and valleys carved by ancient rivers that has been “frozen in time” under the Antarctic ice for millions of years.

This landscape, which is bigger than Belgium, has remained untouched for potentially more than 34 million years, but human-driven global warming could threaten to expose it, the British and American researchers warned.

“It is an undiscovered landscape — no one’s laid eyes on it,” Stewart Jamieson, a glaciologist at the UK’s Durham University and the lead author of the study, told AFP.

Nature Communications.

Jamieson emphasized that the landscape is hundreds of kilometers inland from the edge of the ice, so any possible exposure would be “a long way off.”

The fact that retreating ice over past warming events — such as the Pliocene period, three to 4.5 million years ago — did not expose the landscape, was cause for hope, he added.

But it remains unclear what the tipping point would be for a “runaway reaction” of melting, he said.

The study was released a day after scientists warned that the melting of the neighboring West Antarctic Ice Sheet is likely to substantially accelerate in the coming decades, even if the world meets its ambitions to limit global warming.

Earlier this year, a massive piece of Antarctica’s Brunt Ice Shelf — a chunk about the size of two New York Cities — broke free

The Brunt Ice Shelf lies across the Weddell Sea from the site of another ice shelf that’s made headlines, the Larsen C ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula. Last year, the Larsen C ice shelf — which was roughly the size of New York City and was long considered to be stable — collapsed into the sea

Glacier experts have warned that some of the world’s bigger glaciers could disappear within a generation without a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Traditionally, glacial ice builds up during the winter and provides vital water for crops, transit and millions of people on multiple continents during the summer as it slowly melts, feeding rivers.

“They make it very visible,” Matthias Huss, the head of GLAMOS, an organization that monitors glaciers in Switzerland and collected the data for the academy’s report, told CBS News last month. “People can really understand what is happening, with huge glaciers disappearing and shrinking. This is much more impressive than seeing another graph with rising temperatures.”