Plumbing system seen under Antarctica

Scientists have made a fresh major discovery of water flowing deep beneath a planet’s surface – but this time it is the Earth. Satellite observations have detected a complex plumbing system of lakes and streams flowing nearly half a mile under the Antarctic ice.

Nasa satellite image of AntarcticaThe exciting find comes after a Nasa team revealed new evidence that Mars was once an Earth-like planet with abundant supplies of water.

The new network of waterways on our own planet was spotted using laser beams from Nasa satellites high in orbit.

The liquid water is leaking under fast-moving streams of ice in the Antarctic which is the world’s biggest ice sheet. It holds around 90 per cent of the world’s ice and 70 per cent of its stock of fresh water.

The scientists detected for the first time the subtle rise and fall of the surface of the ice streams as lakes and channels filled and emptied nearly half a mile down. The team, led by Helen Fricker of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, California, published their results in the journal Science today. She said: “There’s an urgency to learning more about ice sheets when you note that sea level rises and falls in direct response to changes in that ice.”

Co-author Robert Bindschadler, of Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, Maryland, said: “This exciting discovery has radically altered our view of what is happening at the base of the ice sheet and how ice moves in that environment.

The research team combined images from Nasa’s Aqua satellite and ICESat to view the changes in the height of the icy surface over a three-year period.

Photo: A Nasa satellite photo of Antarctica.

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Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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