A vast ice crater spotted in the East Antarctica has revealed its unexpected origins as it was discovered to be a meltwater lake.
The East Antarctica region has long since been known to sport a vast ice crater. However, the formation, which is 1.2 miles wide, raised a series of questions.
Most of these were related to its cause of appearance. As most theories considered it to be a meteorite impact location, a team of researchers set out to establish its origin.
The team of researchers to carry out the mission came from the Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Led by Stef Lhermitte, the team proceeded to study the formation.
As such, the team journey to the King Baudoin ice shelf. As the crater’s location, it has first revealed traces of its existence in 1989.
Since then, a series of flybys and public media attention from back in 2014 gave way to new research.
The team of Dutch researchers set out and established the crater on-site. What they found confirmed their theories. Unfortunately, this also led way to a series of concerns.
When analyzing the vast ice formation, the team found a three meters deep depression. A closer look also revealed the presence of three moulins.
A moulin is a vertical shaft, very similar to a well. The three such moulins were placed in the center of the crater. Their location also revealed that they united into two separate meltwater streams.
Lhermitte, the study lead, went to offer a series of comments on the research. As the first people to reach the crater’s location, they were also the first to witness its unusual properties.
According to Lhermitte, the crater’s meltwater lake origin became apparent from the very beginning. The researcher stated that a first such origin theory first appeared after seeing the flyby images.
When face with the running water, the formation’s melted origin became quite clear. The fact that the water was also seen to be draining through a moulin helped to further strengthen the belief.
However, the meltwater lake discovery does not bring good news. According to Lhermitte, the moulins were quite a surprise.
Such meltwater formations are quite an unusual occurrence for the respective Antarctic area. The structures are far more common in regional areas such as Greenland.
The ice-covered island has been known to be losing its ice sheets. Still, the East Antarctica was previously believed to be too cold for such a melting process.
As such, it should not have favored the appearance of moulins. They especially have never before been encountered on an ice shelf.
The scientists were led to believe that the formations appeared in the wake of natural processes. These could have, in turn, been urged on by the effects of global warming.
Studies of the area revealed the presence of either a surface or subsurface meltwater lake. As the lake continued to accumulate water, its build-up pressure also continued to grow.
As such, at one point, it was have become too big or full of water. This would have led to its collapse or maybe draining from the surface area.
Further evidence for the theory was offered by the presence of several submerged “englacial” lakes. These were found on the surface between the ice shelf and the base.
This discovery exposed the potentially unstable character of the East Antarctica region. Although it is the coldest place on Earth, it is also not as stable as we believed it to be.
It new vulnerability to climate changes has been worrying the researchers. Still, further fractures or collapses are not fortunately not expected to happen anytime soon.
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