Antarctica is getting a little hot under the collar. Just under the frozen wasteland of the world’s coldest continent are some seriously hot rocks, which are helping to melt its ice sheet and create lakes and rivers, a study found.
(From USA Today / By Doyle Rice) — How hot? Try 1,800 degrees. The heat produced by the scorching hot rocks — officially known as a mantle plume — was measured at 150 milliwatts per square meter. That’s not far from the heat produced under Yellowstone National Park, which is measured at about 200 milliwatts per square meter.
The study is among the first to say that a mantle plume exists under Marie Byrd Land, a portion of West Antarctica. Study lead author Helene Seroussi of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory thought it was “crazy” that it would be there: “I didn’t see how we could have that amount of heat and still have ice on top of it,” she said.
The goal of the study was to figure out how the ice sheet was able to stay frozen with such a warm mantle plume underneath and to determine the amount of heat provided by the plume to the base of the ice sheet.
Although the heat source isn’t a new or increasing threat to the West Antarctic ice sheet, it could help explain why the ice sheet collapsed rapidly some 11,000 years ago and why it’s so unstable today, Seroussi said.