Buried Antarctic mountain range studied

Nov. 16, 2011 at 5:59 PM

LONDON, Nov. 16 (UPI) -- Scientists say they've solved the mystery of the billion-year sequence of events that formed a mountain range buried beneath the vast East Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey and scientists from six other nations used ice penetrating radars, gravity meters and magnetometers to study the Gamburtsev Subglacial Mountains buried beneath almost 2 miles of ice, a survey release reported Wednesday.

One billion years ago, before animals and plants evolved on Earth, several continents collided, crushing the oldest rocks of the mountain range together to form a thick crustal root extending deep beneath the mountain range.

Over time these ancient mountains were eroded, researchers said, but the cold dense root was left behind.

Around 250 million-100 million years ago, during the time of the dinosaurs, the supercontinent Gondwana, which included Antarctica, broke apart causing the old crustal root to warm.

The rejuvenated crustal root forced the land upwards again, reforming the mountains that exist today hidden far beneath their icy cover.

"We are accustomed to thinking that mountain building relates to a single tectonic event, rather than sequences of events," Carol Finn of the U.S. Geological Survey said.

"The lesson we learned about multiple events forming the Gamburtsevs may inform studies of the history of other mountain belts."

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