Buried deep beneath the Antarctic ice lies a mountain range similar in size to the European Alps. It was widely assumed the Gamburtsevs mountain range, discovered in the late 1950s, was just flat landscape entombed beneath glacial ice.
The discovery in 1958 found relatively young mountains protruding from an old continent. Survey data shows the range initially formed over a billion years ago and formed the starting point for Antarctica's ice shelf. By solving the mystery of the Gamburtsevs, scientists believe they can understand past climatic changes on Earth and predict possible future scenarios as well.
The mountain range survey was undertaken by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) using ice-penetrating radar from aircraft flown back and forth over the continent. Another project from Antarctica's Gamburtsev Province recorded the local magnetic and gravitational fields, reports BBC Science.
The mountain range had formed when a land mass called Rodinia and the continent pushed together forming the peaks which then slowly, over millions of years, eroded away. But the mountains were rejuvenated around 250 million years ago, and right up until the Eocene Epoch ended around 34 million years ago.
Forming rivers and glaciers eventually caused further peaking on the Gamburtsevs around 35 million years ago when the East Antarctic Ice Sheet formed, entombing the Gamburtsevs ever since.
A project mapped by BAS in 2000, produced the best sub-glacial map of Antarctica we have so far. Some images of the Gamburtsevs can be seen here, and these discoveries in central East Antarctica have significant implications for understanding how mountains are formed and ice sheet and glacial evolution within continental interiors.