It’s closing in on two centuries since Antarctica was first discovered. Thanks to modern science we now know there’s a lot more to Antarctica than snow and miles of
10. Hidden Lakes
Nearly 400 lakes lie underneath ice up to 2.5 miles thick. Scientists estimate there could be twice as many, saying there are regions not yet surveyed. Researchers first found the lakes in 1970 using radio echo sounding, a technology similar to using radar to find aircraft in the sky. More research in 1996 led researchers to discover a lake possibly as big as Lake Ontario underneath Russia’s Vostok Station.
The lakes likely formed after Antarctica separated from a supercontinent known as Gondwanaland. The water in these lakes, especially underneath the east Antarctic ice sheet, may have been separated from the atmosphere for at many years.
Researchers discovered something else they didn’t expect – a mountain range. Named the Gamburtseve Mountains, the mountain range stretches about 750 miles and includes peaks that rise to 9,000 feet. The mountains, once likely eroded, possibly “popped back up” when Antarctica broke apart from Gondwanaland.
While not thought originally possibly, scientists have found life within and underneath the ice covering Antarctica. That includes microbes found underneath the ice sheet. Questions that researchers are attempting to answer include whether the bacteria is related to organisms found when Antarctica froze over or if there are new species that arriving later, possibly in sea water flowing underneath the ice sheets.
Studies suggest these microbes are digesting organic matter and producing methane, a greenhouse gas worse than carbon dioxide. There’s no way for the methane to get out, but that could change if global warming continues. Climate scientists warn that could escape if glaciers continue to recede.
There are predictions that as much as 200 billion barrels worth of oil lies underneath the ice. It’s difficult to reach and extract, and right now an international treaty sets aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve with no mineral drilling allowed. Question is, could that change when the treaty comes up for renewal in 2048?
Scientists lowering a remote-controlled submersible into a hole drilled through the ice discovered a see-through fish. The fish had to adapt to survive in freezing temperatures that would otherwise likely free their body fluids. The possible cause of the translucent coloring is the loss of hemoglobin, a protein that makes animals’ blood red.
Underneath the thick ice of the Antarctic lies a volcano. Scientists discovered the volcano, since named Mount Erebus, while studying earthquake activity. The deepness of the earthquakes indicated a possible volcanic area. What scientists found was a volcano that most likely erupted before – and will erupt again.
That leads to concern about what happens if there is an eruption. The heat could increase melting of the glacier and global sea levels as well.
There are not many, but explorers of the frozen continent have found plants. About 100 species of moss and about 300 species of lichens, which can handle cold temperatures, exist in Antarctica. The lichen grows in cracks between rocks where it can get access to water.
Most of the species exist on the continent’s western side, which is warmer, but certain species can be found elsewhere.
Red and green snow algae can also be found in the snow and on the underside of floating ice. Tussock grass can be found on islands surrounding the continent.
2. Ancient Rainforests
Fossilized wood and leaf impressions show there were forests in Antarctica at some time. The findings include signs of tropical trees, leading to questions of how since Antarctica is anything but tropical.
1. Nazi Base?
Germans, using a vessel named Schwabenland, explored the Antarctic during the late 1930s. Their interest was whaling, a popular industry in Germany at the time though speculation was the Germans had military objectives as well.
World War II drew the German military attention elsewhere before Germans had much time to explore Antarctica. There was speculation that Nazi leader didn’t commit suicide and had instead snuck into the Antarctic after World War II aboard a submarine. Questioning of the crew, captured as prisoners of war, led the Allies to doubt the story.
While the Nazis didn’t have a secret Antarctic base – at least one anyone knows of – the British did as the exploration of the Antarctic increased during World War II.