Expedition to the "pole of inaccessibility"

Scientists explored previously unknown mountains in the Antarctic ice

This elevation profile from Landsat data shows the peaks of the lower Gamburtsev Mountains © NSF Antarctic Program to the right of the center
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The Gamburtsev range, completely covered in ice, is considered one of the most inaccessible areas of the Antarctic. Now an international research team has returned from an expedition to study the geological structure of this area in the eastern Antarctic.

Researchers from the US, UK, Australia, China, Japan and Germany traveled the so-called "Pole of Inaccessibility" during a ten-week exploratory tour of the Gamburtsev Mountains., The AGAP (Antarctica's Gamburtsev Province) expedition to one of the most inaccessible regions of the Antarctic was one of the key research projects in the now-ending International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-09.

A mountain as "terra incognita"

The scientists performed geophysical surveys - both on the ground and from the air. The magnetic field and the gravitational field as well as the ice thickness were examined. In addition, seismological observations were part of the research program. The exploration of the geological structure of this little-studied mountain range and the associated development of the Antarctic ice sheet was one of the outstanding objectives of the International Polar Year.

"Until now, basically nothing more was known than that the Gamburtsev Mountains are mountains in the middle of the East Antarctic that is completely covered by Antarctic ice sheets, " explains Detlef Damaske, head of the group of scientists at the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources ( BGR). "Whether this mountain under which the ice is a simple highland, has alpine character and from which rocks it is, was so far completely unclear. Also, the connection with other structures, such as the subglacial lakes or ditch systems was unknown. "

Oldest ice in Antarctica?

"We have collected a large number of important data that can provide us with information about the development of the entire East Antarctic ice sheet, " said the head of the BGR research group, Detlef Damaske. Thus, the polar researchers consider it possible that the 1957/58 discovered by Soviet scientists mountains of the "Gamburtsev Mountains" birthplace of the great glaciation of the central Antarctic, which here presumably began 30 million years ago. Damaske: "We probably encountered the oldest ice in the Antarctic during our research work. However, we will only know that after evaluating and interpreting the collected data in one to two years. "Advertisement

Mountains are "mountain lovers" of the Alps

The first evidence from the radar data obtained in the Gamburtsev Mountains suggested a relatively young mountain, such as the Alps, which had been glaciated relatively quickly, according to the BGR geophysicist. While the largest ice thicknesses lie at the southern edge of the measuring area at about 3, 500 to 4, 000 meters, take the strength of the ice over the mountain peaks in the northern investigation area at less than 1, 000 meters.

In the context of the evaluation of the data obtained now, the scientists also hope for new conclusions about climate change. "The project uniquely combines the scientific know-how of an international research team with the aim of providing answers to fundamental questions about the nature and development of the southernmost continent, " says Damaske.

The AGAP project was also logistically a major challenge due to the great distances to the coastal stations as well as the extreme temperatures of up to minus 35 degrees Celsius in the Antarctic summer. The realization of the project was only possible through the joint effort of the participating countries. The base camp for the large-scale exploration was two work camps. The first camp from which the BGR scientists operated was 630 kilometers from the S dpol. A second one, in which, among other things, the British researchers worked, was another 800 kilometers to the north. For the Aerogeophysical Investigations The focus of the BGR work on this project was on the US Antarctic Program and the AntBritish Antarctic Survey, two type aircraft Twin Otter used.

(BGR, 12.02.2009 - NPO)