Nasa brings hot news from the Antarctic underground

Mindy Sparks
November 11, 2017

However, the world's biggest Space Agency also added that these geothermal activities are not new, and made it clear that it is not a threat to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

About three decades ago, a scientist argued that the presence of a heat source underneath the Marie Byrd Land in Antarctica could explain the regional volcanic activity that takes place in the area. Understanding the sources and future of the meltwater under West Antarctica is important for estimating the rate at which ice may be lost to the ocean in the future. When Hélène Seroussi of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, first heard the idea, however, "I thought it was insane", she said.

NASA researchers have found new evidence that an ancient geothermal heat source might help explain how rivers and lakes form beneath the West Antarctic ice sheet.

Mantle plumes are narrow upwellings of hot rock that rise up from the Earth's mantle. Now the recent seismic images and the confirmation of geothermal activities by NASA are supporting the concept. However, the latest data could help researchers better estimate future ice loss in the area because "the stability of an ice sheet is closely related to how much water lubricates it from below, allowing glaciers to slide more easily", the NASA press release noted. Since the location and size of the possible mantle plume were not known, they had to cover a vast amount of area in order to identify the heat source.


Find more details on the study on NASA's website, here. Instead, this heating source will enable the scientists to explain the reason behind the rapid collapse of ice sheets during climatic changes.

Using a numeric model, the flux of energy from the mantle plume was calculated to be 150 miliwatts, only 50 milliwatts less than the average heat flux under Yellowstone. Under Yellowstone's volcanic hot spot, the heat from below is about 200 milliwatts per square meter. If the mantle plume is there, then it's been there forever and will always be there. The buoyancy of the material, some of it molten, causes the crust to bulge upward.

The scientists note in the study published this week in the Journal of Geophysical Research that mantle plumes are not new phenomena. As a result, the sea level rose and pushed warm water close to the ice sheet-just as is happening today.

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