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Antarctic scientists use radar to reveal the continent’s mountainous topography

Antarctica has been hiding something. It may look like a fairly flat, snow-covered wasteland, but scientists have pulled back the ice sheet to reveal the mountainous topography of the continent underneath.

Only 1 percent of this rock makes its way to the surface of the frozen terrain. Although some of these mountains are as tall as the Alps, they’re still obscured by more than 3,200 feet of ice. The highest elevations are marked in this image in red and black, and the lowest are shown in dark blue. The light blue area shows the extent of the continental shelf.

Using radar to map the landscape, scientists at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have pooled data from decades of polar expeditions to create the most accurate and detailed map of the “white continent” ever made. To chart the terrain, planes send microwave pulses through the upper sheet and record the echoes that bounce off the underlying rock. This gives a clear picture of the hidden landscape and also reveals the depth of the ice cover.

“It’s like you’ve brought the whole thing now into sharp focus,” Hamish Pritchard of the BAS told BBC News.

— New Scientist



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