subway river in Antarctica

A 460-kilometer subway river in Antarctica

Scientists discovered a subway river in Antarctica, with a length of more than 460 kilometers

A subway river in Antarctica, longer than London’s Thames, threatens the Antarctic ecosystem. In addition, this river occupies an area the size of France and Germany combined. The finding was published in the specialized journal Nature Geoscience and has aroused great interest beyond the academic community.

In Antarctica, unlike the North Pole, large amounts of water do not melt on the surface of the ice that can cause cracks. This is because Antarctic summers remain very cold. Many believed that this indicated that there was little water at the base of the ice sheets. This study has now disproved that theory.

The research by authors from the United Kingdom, Canada and Malaysia describes how the river is fed by the water it receives from the base of the Antarctic ice sheet. This is a novel finding for scientists because it shows that the base of the ice has a much more active water flow than previously estimated. Therefore, this could have an impact on the Antarctic ice sheet being more affected by climate change.

A subway river in Antarctica threatens the world

Two decades ago, scientists found the first subway lakes in Antarctica. At the time, the scientific community thought they were isolated lakes. Now, however, the discovery of the subglacial river is further proof that large, interconnected river systems, several kilometers thick, exist beneath the Antarctic ice.

“The region on which this study is based has enough ice to raise global sea level by 4.3 meters. How much of this ice melts and how fast it melts is related to how slippery the ice base is. The newly discovered river system could greatly influence this process,” acknowledged one of the study’s authors, Professor Martin Siegert of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London.

The scientists used airborne radar soundings to carry out the study, which allowed them to look under the ice. The team worked in a relatively understudied part of Antarctica that includes ice from the western and eastern ice sheets and extends into the Weddell Sea.