Scientists observe drumlin beneath ice sheet

Jan 23, 2007

Scientists have discovered a warehouse-sized drumlin – a mound of sediment and rock – actively forming and growing under the ice sheet in Antarctica. Its discovery, and the rate at which it was formed, sheds new light on ice-sheet behaviour. This could have implications for predicting how ice sheets contribute to sea-level rise. The results are published this week in the journal Geology.

Drumlins are well known features of landscape scoured by past ice sheets and can be seen in Scotland and Northern England where they were formed during the last ice age. They form underneath the ice as it scrapes up soil and rock, and they slow down the rate at which the ice can flow.

Scientists from British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Swansea University and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Pasadena used a new technique of time-lapse seismic surveys to find the drumlin, and how it formed over time.

Lead author Dr Andy Smith of BAS says, "This is the first time anyone has observed a drumlin actually forming under the ice. These results will help us interpret the way ice sheets behaved in the past, and crucially, will help predict how they might change in the future".

To the team's surprise the drumlin grew ten times faster than they had ever expected, giving a new and important insight into the drag on the underside of the ice and hence how fast ice sheets are able to flow. The study took place on the Rutford Ice Stream – a 2-km thick, fast flowing ice stream draining part of the West Antarctic ice sheet.

The team used seismic reflection data gathered three times over the last 13 years to map the changes beneath the ice.

Second author Professor Tavi Murray of Swansea University's School of the Environment and Society says, "The new study was recently described at a conference as 'hunting drumlins in the wild'. The analogy with wildlife is good. We learn a lot more from seeing an animal born and growing up, than just dissecting an ancient body. The same is true of drumlins. By observing the birth and growth of this drumlin, we can see that the landscape beneath an ice sheet is changing at a rate faster than previously thought".

Source: British Antarctic Survey

Explore further: Aging Africa

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Evolutionary history of honeybees revealed by genomics

6 hours ago

In a study published in Nature Genetics, researchers from Uppsala University present the first global analysis of genome variation in honeybees. The findings show a surprisingly high level of genetic divers ...

Signatures of selection inscribed on poplar genomes

6 hours ago

One aspect of the climate change models researchers have been developing looks at how plant ranges might shift, and how factors such as temperature, water availability, and light levels might come into play. ...

Cutting emissions pays for itself, research shows

6 hours ago

Lower rates of asthma and other health problems are frequently cited as benefits of policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions from sources like power plants and vehicles, because these policies also lead ...

Recommended for you

Aging Africa

20 hours ago

In the September issue of GSA Today, Paul Bierman of the University of Vermont–Burlington and colleagues present a cosmogenic view of erosion, relief generation, and the age of faulting in southernmost Africa ...

NASA animation shows Hurricane Marie winding down

21 hours ago

NOAA's GOES-West satellite keeps a continuous eye on the Eastern Pacific and has been covering Hurricane Marie since birth. NASA's GOES Project uses NOAA data and creates animations and did so to show the end of Hurricane ...

EU project sails off to study Arctic sea ice

Aug 29, 2014

A one-of-a-kind scientific expedition is currently heading to the Arctic, aboard the South Korean icebreaker Araon. This joint initiative of the US and Korea will measure atmospheric, sea ice and ocean properties with technology ...

User comments : 0