The Antarctic ice sheet is the largest block of ice on Earth. It covers an area of 30 million km³ (7.2 million cubic miles) of ice that spreads 14 million km² (5.4 million square miles).
The Antarctic ice sheet is about 1.2 miles thick. If it melted, the sea level would rise by about 60 meters (200 feet).
Since it does not get warm enough in Antarctica, frost and snow crystals that accumulate year-by-year on the ice sheet’s surface do not melt. So, it was always assumed that there was relatively little water at the base of the Antarctic ice sheets.
However, through airborne radar surveys and hydrology models, Scientists have been surprised to discover a vast hidden river system under the ice sheet.
286-mile-long river discovered under the Antarctic ice sheet
The under-ice river stretches over 286 miles (460 kilometers), transporting large fluxes of freshwater at high pressure.
It appears that this significant amount of water beneath the ice sheets is primarily driven by the natural heat of the Earth and friction as the ice moves over land.
Scientists fear acceleration of ice loss as climate change warms the area
Scientists fear that the river will accelerate ice loss from the sheet’s base as the planet continues to warm.
Lead researcher Dr. Christine Dow, from the University of Waterloo, said, ‘We could be hugely underestimating how quickly the system will melt by not accounting for the influence of these river systems,’
She added: ‘From satellite measurements, we know which regions of Antarctica are losing ice, and how much, but we don’t necessarily know why. This discovery could be a missing link in our models.’