Antarctica, one of the most mysterious and poorly understood continents on Earth, hides the ancient remains of lost continents beneath its ice sheets. The discovery, made by researchers from Kiel University in Germany and the British Antarctic Survey in 2018, was a real breakthrough in the study of Antarctica’s history. Satellite gravity mapping data and seismological information helped create three-dimensional images of Earth’s plate tectonics even in the continent’s most inaccessible areas.
Of particular interest is the difference between East and West Antarctica. Studies have shown that West Antarctica has a thin crust and lithosphere compared to East Antarctica, which consists of mountainous folded plates and ancient rocky crust zones. In these rocky cratons, you can see the remains of ancient continents that were pressed into the depths of modern continental plates.
One of the key instruments the researchers used was the European Space Agency’s Gravity Field and Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) satellite. Over its five-year mission, GOCE collected a wealth of data about the Earth’s gravitational field with unprecedented accuracy. This data enabled the creation of a map of Antarctica based on bedrock and continental topography.
“These gravity images are revolutionizing our ability to study the least studied continent on Earth, Antarctica,” notes Fausto Ferraccioli, scientific director of the British Antarctic Survey’s Geology and Geophysics Department.
The research has shown that East Antarctica is a fascinating mosaic of geological features that reveals fundamental similarities and differences between the crust beneath Antarctica and other continents. This allows scientists to better understand how Antarctica was connected to other continents up to 160 million years ago.
Cratons, which make up the oldest cores of Earth’s lithosphere, are of particular interest to researchers. Studying these cratons helps unlock the mysteries of our planet’s early history.