When the Gamburtsev mountain range was first discovered in the 1950s in Antarctica, it came to a shock to scientists. It was previously believed that the terrain buried under the massive sheet of ice would be flat and featureless, but that was proven not to be the case.
Why there’s a mountain range buried deep below an ice sheet has been a mystery to scientists for years now, but the National Scientific Foundation claims that the mystery behind the Gamburtsev mountain range has been solved.
According to findings from the NSF-funded project to understand the Gamburtsev subglacial mountains, the mountain range is possible because it began forming about a billion years ago, when the continent of Antarctica was still part of the massive supercontinent, Gondwana.
This means that the Gamburtsev mountain range didn’t form in the same way that just about every other mountain range on the planet did. Instead, its formation was kicked into the gear by continents clashing with each other, which pushed up the ground in the region.
The process is believed to have taken several hundred million years to complete, and at one point it’s believed the tips of the mountains began to erode. However, around 100-250 million years ago, when the continents started to separate, the crust began to pull apart, resulting in a warmer “root”, which provided enough buoyancy to create uplift, resulting in continued formation of the mountain range.
“This research really solves the mystery of how you can have young-looking mountains in the middle of an old continent,” US principal investigator Dr Robin Bell from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University told BBC News.
“In this case, the original Gamburtsevs probably completely eroded away only to come back, phoenix-like. They’ve had two lives,” she said.
[Image credit: Shutterstock.com / Vitaly Korovin]