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Antarctic Ice Sheets Stable Since Millions Of Years: Study

Ice Sheets
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A new research has found that, the ice sheets of central Antarctica have been stable for millions of years when conditions were warmer than now.

Researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh and Northumbria studied rocks on slopes of the Ellsworth Mountains in Antarctica, whose peaks protrude through the ice sheet.

Even though the discovery suggests the long-term stability of Antarctica’s ice sheet, the scientists are still concerned that ice at the coastline is vulnerable to rising temperature.

Scientists calculated that the mountains have been shaped by an ice sheet over a million-year period, beginning in a climate some 20 degrees warmer than at present.

“The preservation of old rock surfaces is testimony to the stability of at least the central parts of the Antarctic ice sheet — but we are still very concerned over other parts of Antarctica amid climate change,” said David Sugden, professor at University of Edinburgh.

By mapping and analysing surface rocks, including measuring their exposure to cosmic rays, researchers calculated that the mountains have been shaped by ice sheets over a million-year period.

The last time such climates existed in the mountains of Antarctica was 14 million years ago when vegetation grew in the mountains and beetles thrived.

Antarctica’s climate at the time would be similar to that of modern day Patagonia or Greenland.

This time marked the start of a period of cooling and the growth of a large ice sheets that extended offshore around the Antarctic continent.

Glaciers have subsequently cut deep into the landscape, leaving a high-tide mark — known as a trimline — in the exposed peaks of the Ellsworth range.

The extended ice sheet cooled the oceans and atmosphere, helping form the world of today, researchers say. Their study is among the first to find evidence for this period in West Antarctica.

The research, published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, was done in collaboration with the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre.

It was funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council and supported by British Antarctic Survey.

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