They discover a prehistoric river hundreds of kilometers long in Antarctica

An expedition to the depths of Antarctica has just revealed a prehistoric river system hundreds of kilometers long that until now had been hidden under ice. The scientists in charge explain that these are the vestiges of an extensive delta that flowed during the geological era known as the Eocene and that crossed the territory that is frozen today, when the Earth had a warmer climate than today.

The team, led by scientists from the University of Bremen and the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, pointed out that the prehistoric river measured at least 1,600 kilometers and existed between 34 and 44 million years ago. For now, it represents the largest known river system on the frozen continent. The results of the expedition were published in the journal Science Advances.

The remains of the river are not reliefs on the surface of Antarctica that a drone or satellite can simply photograph. Scientists had to traverse the frozen territory aboard the specialized ship ‘Polarstern’ and drill up to 30 meters below the ground to extract ancient sediments. The multidisciplinary reading of these rocks allowed us to find new chemical traces of the territory’s water past.

This is the landscape discovered under the ice of Antarctica

With satellite research and radar, scientists find a region of 32,000 square kilometers under Antarctica; there was a river system.

The traces of the river that is no longer there

The researchers found samples belonging to two different geological periods. The lower part of the material corresponded to the Cretaceous period, 85 million years ago. It contained fossil particles that are characteristic of a temperate rainforest. Meanwhile, the upper portion was mostly sand from the middle and late Eocene epoch. This period is recognized for hosting a global cooling event that led to the formation of glaciers. The material in the middle of these layers, therefore, corresponds to a transition period between warm Antarctica and what is now known.

When they analyzed the Eocene sediment, they recognized stratified patterns similar to the marks left by the deltas of the longest known rivers, such as the Mississippi River or the Nile River. Later, they extrapolated the information to determine the possible site through which the river circulated. . The team found the same sand in a salty region around a separate mountain system 1,600 kilometers away. A subsequent analysis of lipids and sugars in the material found showed biological traces of freshwater cyanobacteria.

New map of Antarctica with the newly found river system.


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