Antarctica's Ghost Mountains Revealed
People who plan expeditions to some of the most remote and fascinating places on earth tend to enjoy discovering something unusual, and the Gamburtsev Mountains in Antarctica, also known as the Ghost Mountains, definitely fit this description. Although no human has ever been able to walk within these mountains due to their location three miles beneath the ice, there has been a lot of compelling research that paints a fairly good picture of what they look like.
How Were These Mountains Discovered?
The Ghost Mountains were found by accident in the 1950s. Russian explorers were able to determine that a mountain range was hidden beneath their feet because of extremely unusual fluctuations in gravity. However, these explorers lacked the proper equipment to unearth Antarctica’s secret mountains, and no one else would be able to make any notable progress until 2008. Fortunately, we now have radar instruments available that are able to penetrate ice in order to collect data. An international team of scientists put this technology to work for four weeks between the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009, and they were stunned by the results that they found.
Is the Fountain of Youth Hidden in the Gamburtsev Mountains?
Depending on who you ask, the fountain of youth is a myth, a secret reality or a metaphorical phrase that describes any unusual lack of aging. If the latter version is what you seek, then you will definitely find it in Antarctica. Researchers probably thought that they were reading the results of their radar scans incorrectly when they first figured out that the mountains were at least 100 million years old but looked more like a youthful 55 million. How did this happen? Scientists believe that the thick sheets of ice that encase the Ghost Mountains are responsible for delaying the aging effects of time.
How Would Ice Delay Aging?
Erosion is the main culprit in a mountain’s visible age. For example, the Rocky Mountains still look relatively fresh and rugged because they are only somewhere between 55 and 80 million years old. Meanwhile, erosion has caused the Appalachian Mountains to take on their characteristic rolling appearance after 480 million years of wear and tear.
Antarctica’s Gamburtsev Mountains appear to have been preserved under ice for at least 34 million years, and this has dramatically removed the amount of erosion that has taken place. After all, a frozen mountain buried underneath thousands of feet of ice cannot experience typical signs of erosion because it is not being worn down by natural elements such as wind, water or moving ice. In other words, if all of the ice sheets were to melt, the so-called Ghost Mountains would experience some erosion and aging, but they would still end up facing the sun for the first time in millions of years with a much more youthful appearance than their age would predict.
What Do the Mountains Look Like?
Aside from being younger looking than anticipated, the equipment that was used in 2008 and 2009 did provide additional clues about the physical makeup of the Gamburtsev Mountains. We know that the subglacial peaks are approximately 750 miles long, and they are at least 10,800 feet high. This makes them one of the tallest mountain ranges in Antarctica, but no one will ever be able to see them with anything other than radar equipment unless global climate change ends up melting some of the thickest ice on the planet.
Where Are These Mountains Located?
The closest anyone can get to the Ghost Mountains is the top layer of ice above them. The location is near Vostok, and this is the most frigid area on the planet. The record low temperature at this area close to the longitude line of 70 degrees east is an amazing -128 degrees Fahrenheit or -89 Celsius. With temperatures like these, it is no wonder that even the hardiest ocean and world expedition enthusiast is likely to seek out a more comfortable spot in Antarctica to explore, but it is hard to resist the lure of walking above a hidden mountain range that has never been seen by human eyes. We will never get to gaze upon the beauty of these unusual youthful mountains, but we can learn a lot about Antarctica’s history by studying them.