Nov. 5 (UPI) -- New satellite surveys and fresh gravity datasets are helping scientists image tectonic structures, revealing links between Antarctica and the rest of Earth's continents.
Using data collected by the European Space Station's GOCE mission -- short for Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer -- scientists have begun to identify the lithosphere structures that define the movement and evolution of the planet's continents.
The insights made possible by the newly analyzed GOCE data offer a view of Earth's tectonics distinct from seismic surveys.
Until now, detailed images of Antarctica's underlying tectonic structures have been hard to come by. By analyzing gradients in the gravity data collected by ESA's GOCE satellites, scientists were able to produce "curvature images" that better illuminate large-scale tectonic features in the lithosphere -- structures that help explain the relationship between ice-covered bodies like Antarctica and the rest of the planet's continents.
Scientists detailed the new curvature images this week in the journal Scientific Reports.
"Our new satellite gravity gradient images improve our knowledge of Earth's deep structure," Jörg Ebbing, a professor at Kiel University, said in a news release. "The satellite gravity data can be combined with seismological data to produce more consistent images of the crust and upper mantle in 3D. This is crucial to understanding how plate tectonics and deep mantle dynamics interact."
Scientists have used gravity data to analyze Mars' geologic characteristics, as well as the shifting polar orientation of Ceres. Now, scientists are using satellite gravity data to better understand Earth's geologic evolution.
"Satellite gravity is revolutionizing our ability to study the lithosphere of the entire Earth, including its least understood continent, Antarctica," said Fausto Ferraccioli, researcher at the British Antarctic Survey. "In East Antarctica, for example, we now begin to see a more complex mosaic of ancient lithosphere provinces. GOCE shows us fundamental similarities but also unexpected differences between its lithosphere and other continents, to which it was joined until 160 million years ago."