Earth Sciences, Environment

Radioactive Rocks May Be Melting Sheet Ice In Antarctica

Scientists have discovered a remarkably hot, remarkably large area of rock beneath Antarctica’s thick ice sheet.

The area that scientists are calling a hot spot, is thought to be twice the size of Greater London and is causing base layers of the ice-sheet that covers the continent to melt at an alarming rate. This, in turn is creating a large sag in the surface of Antarctica’s ice.

The findings were part of a larger study conducted by a team from The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in which they used aircraft equipped with radar equipment to collect data from beneath the 3KM thick sheet of ice that covers Antarctica. The study showed all kinds of detailed information from beneath the ice including the hot spot.


Scientists admit that they are at a loss as to what is causing the hot spot (located close to the South Pole) but speculate that it could be a large area of unusually radioactive rocks. These rocks, combined with extremely hot water— heated deep underground— and rising to the surface could be responsible for the melting that’s occurring. The area is known for its incredibly fast flowing ice; which scientists now believe may be attributed to the stream of melt water caused by the hot spot.

Radioactive Rocks May Be Melting Sheet Ice In Antarctica
This graphic shows the technique used to locate the rocks. Tom Jordan/British Antarctic Survey


So do we need to worry about The Antarctic melting and washing us all away? Well… no more than usual. The scientists from BAS believe that this hot spot has been there for hundreds of thousand, possibly millions of years and is not directly changing the ice sheet. Lead author of the study, Tom Jordan said, however; “in the future the extra water at the ice sheet bed may make this region more sensitive to external factors such as climate change”

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