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Enigmatic Dome A to get another visit this Antarctica season

Posted: Oct 16, 2008 09:59 pm EDT

(ThePoles.com) Skiing to the South Pole, you'll be climbing uphill towards the first plateau at 81.00 where the incline levels out and the trip gets a bit easier. Midway to the pole, at around 84.00, you'll spot the transantarctic mountain range.

The ice becomes disturbed as it hits the mainland of old Antarctica. Now starts the second climb towards the South Pole plateau at 3000 meters. Should you pass the South Pole, you'd soon notice ripples on the flat surface. You've hit the huge Gamburtsevs mountain range, buried under the ice below your feet.

Dome A

According to Russia-InfoCentre these "ghost mountains" were discovered by the 3rd Soviet Antarctic Expedition in 1958 and named after the great Soviet seismologist Grigory Gamburtsev.

The hidden massif in an area called Dome A (Dome Argus) latest had a visit early this year by a 17-member Chinese expedition, who raised a flag and a memorial sculpture on the highest point, preparing a location for an astronomical observatory and China's third Antarctic research station.

It [Gamburtsevs mountain range] is approximately 1200 km long, according to Russia-InfoCentre, and the highest point is about 3,400 metres from base to point, although it is completely covered by over 600 m of ice and snow."

The peaks will get another look this season. BBC reports that an international team of scientists will use various types of aerial radars and sonars to map the mountains' structure.

Looking for mystery clue and old ice

The scientists reportedly want to know how come the peaks are there. Mountain ranges form either by colliding continents (and then on their edges) or by volcanoes. This range is in the middle of the continent and there's no evidence of heat beneath it. In addition, the last collision was so long time ago that the peaks should have eroded by now, scientists told BBC.

The crew will map the area and also check for old ice, estimating that the region could make it possible to drill down to ices at least 200,000 years older than those currently in the possession of scientists, according to BBC. Such samples offer footprints of temperatures vs. gases (natural and man made) which, when compared, can offer clues to Global Warming.

Owned by nobody, Antarctica is the core of Gondwanaland, the first land to form on earth. The earths fifth continent; larger than Australia, hides the files of our world's beginning. Somewhere deep in her frozen ice, lays the worlds very first rock - and plenty of oil.

Antarctica is divided into Greater (east) and Lesser (west) Antarctica. Great Antarctica is one stable plate, whereas the lesser Antarctica consists of several smaller, moving plates. The South Pole is on Greater Antarctica. Greater and lesser Antarctica is divided by the Transantarctic mountain range and there is a circle of mountains surrounding the coast.

While Mount Vinson (4,897m) on the southern part of the Sentinel Range is the highest altitude mark in Antarctica; Dome A is the highest ice feature, comprising a dome or eminence of 4,093 m elevation, located near the center of East Antarctica and approximately midway between the head of Lambert Glacier and the South Pole. It is thought to be one of the coldest naturally occurring places on Earth, with temperatures believed to reach -90 °C. (The lowest air temperature, -89.2°C, at the surface of the earth was recorded in July 1983 at Vostok, which is almost 600 m lower in elevation than Dome A.)

Neither flat nor very snowy, Antarctica's mountain ranges the size of the Alps in Europe are buried in her ice with only the summits exposed; making for pretty short climbs. Eternal deserts lay bare at places, dotted by meteorites and ancient skeletons preserved forever by the dry air. In the sky, the earths magnetic field bends, attracting meteorites and the spectacular solar winds. Katabatic winds, the strongest on earth, sweep down her plateau. The atmosphere is very thin.

Antarcticas ice sheet, 1.5 times the size of or America or Europe, is the worlds sweet water reservoir. At places pushed up to 2000ft (600m) below sea level the ice sheet can reach more than 2.5 miles (4km) in thickness.

The ice is the result of snowfall over millions of years. All this snow, frozen and preserved, tells the history of past climates. Drilling a sample shows the chemicals and gases trapped in the ice thousands of years ago. This is helpful in understanding cyclic global warming.


The hidden Gumburtsev Mountains were discovered by the 3rd Soviet Antarctic Expedition in 1958 and named after Soviet seismologist Grigory Gamburtsev. Map courtesy of Russia-InfoCentre/ Russia-ic.com.