Washington, Oct 15 : Using sophisticated airborne radar and other Information Age tools and techniques, scientists are all set to probe one of the globe's last major unexplored places, which is located in Antarctica.
A multinational team of scientists from six nations will virtually "peel away" more than four kilometers (2.5 miles) of ice covering an Antarctic mountain range that rivals the Alps in elevation, and which current scientific knowledge suggests shouldn't be there at all.
What the team hopes to find there are answers to some of the most basic questions about the nature of the southernmost continent - and specifically the massive East Antarctic Ice Sheet - including how Antarctica came to be ice-covered in the first place, and whether, as many believe, that process began millions of years ago in the enigmatic Gamburstev Mountain range.
The researchers of the Antarctica's Gamburstev Province (AGAP) team hope that the technology they bring to bear will help them answer the question of whether the Gamburstevs were born of tectonic activity in Antarctica, or date from a period millions of years ago when Antarctica was the center of an enormous supercontinent located at far lower latitudes.
According to Robin Bell, of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, AGAP will help scientists understand one of Antarctica's last major mysteries.
"Because the heart of East Antarctica is so difficult to get to, we know very little about it. The Gamburtsev mountain range is fascinating. It defies all geological understanding of how mountains evolve. It really shouldn't be there," she said.
"We think also that there's a strong possibility that the mountains are the birthplace of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. Over 30 million years ago, ice began to grow around the peaks, eventually burying the range and its surrounding lakes. I'm really excited that at last we have a chance to find out what happened," she added.
"For two and a half months, our international teams will pool their resources and expertise to survey mountains the size of the Alps buried under the ice sheet, that currently defy any reasonable geological explanation," said Fausto Ferraccioli, a geophysicist with the British Antarctic Survey, who is leading the United Kingdom's team.
"At the same time, we will hunt for ice that is more than 1.2 million years old. Locked in this ancient ice is a detailed record of past climate change that may assist in making better predictions for our future," he added.