Saturday, June 8, 2013


Bedrock beneath: Unlike the North Pole, which is situated on (rapidly disappearing) floating ice, the South Pole is located on a landmass. But until now, we have not been able to visualize in detail the surface of the continent of Antarctica. Researchers at the British Antarctic Survey have used satellite and surface data collected over decades to strip away the sea ice, glaciers, and ice sheets to reveal the Antarctic topography (VIDEO HERE). Says team leader Peter Fretwell, "Before, we had a regional overview of the topography. But this new map, with its much higher resolution, shows the landscape itself, a complex landscape of mountains, hills and rolling plains, dissected by valleys, troughs and deep gorges."

Beneath bedrock: Almost 2 miles deep in a Canadian mine, at the level of what used to be the ocean floor, isotope geochemist Barbara Sherwood Lollar and her colleagues at the University of Toronto found the most ancient pocket of untouched water discovered to date. They used a device that measures levels of stable elements (hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen) and noble gases (helium, xenon, and krypton) to determine – knowing how long it takes for chemicals to react between rocks and water – how long the fluid had been trapped in the deep crust. As it turns out, the water predates the development of multi-cellular life on the planet. Lollar exclaims, "It was absolutely mind-blowing, These weren't tens of millions of years old like we might have expected, or even hundreds of millions of years old. They were billions of years old."

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