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The science overview - Antarctica's hidden world

The Antarctica’s Gamburtsev Province (AGAP) project focuses on an invisible world in one of the most remote areas on Earth, just west of the Pole of Inaccessibility, in East Antarctica. Organised as part of a large international effort through the fourth International Polar Year, the project will peel back the roughly 4 km-deep layer of 1.2 million-year-old glacial ice, to expose the mountains and lakes hidden below. The project involves several intersecting areas of scientific research.

The Mountains:

Developing an understanding of the origin and the influences of the Subglacial Gamburtsev Mountains. The Gamburtsev Mountains positioned deep in East Antarctica, lie below the highest, and perhaps the coldest, place on the East Antarctic Ice Sheet — ‘Dome A’. Discovered 50 years ago, in the International Geophysical Year, the very origin of these mountains remains a complete mystery. What caused them to ever be formed?

Subglacial Lakes:
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Gamburtsev beneath the ice

Through the use of airborne radar and satellite measurements more than 200 subglacial lakes have been located in Antarctica. Water moves between these lakes through a complex system of under-ice rivers, streams and even swamps. Scientists believe water under the ice sheet lubricates the underside of the ice making the ice sheet slide faster. The moving water seems to have a direct link to ice sheet stability.

Climate:

Much of what we know about climate change on our planet comes from ice cores. Ice cores are like climate libraries, capturing gases and atmospheric particles that provide information on the climate from earlier ice ages and warm periods. Many scientists hypothesize the oldest ice on the planet exists close to Dome A, so an ice core from this region will reveal the longest history of planetary change. Through our international collaborations, ice core samples will be recovered from this last great unknown region of Antarctica. Scientists hope that ice cores collected from Dome A will contain information that will shed new light on the origins of the Antarctic ice sheet and its role in future climate change.

AGAP camps in Antarctica - Map showing locations of field camps and stations