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A Hidden Radioactive Heat Source Seems To Be Melting Antarctica from Below


When it comes to measuring ice loss at the poles, and predicting what might happen next, scientists need as much accurate data as they can get – and a new study suggests there’s a big source of geothermal heat underneath East Antarctica that we haven’t yet factored into our calculations.

Ice in this area appears to be melting from the bottom up, according to radar readings taken by an aircraft flying over the frozen continent. The radar was able to penetrate through three kilometres (nearly two miles) of ice to map the conditions underneath it.

As the base of the Antarctic ice sheet melts, meltwater drains away and fills up subglacial lakes downstream.

While this process might not be a major contributor to ice loss right now, the international team of scientists says it could cause faster melting in the future, as water and ice can escape more easily.

ice ice melty 2What could be happening under parts of East Antarctica. (Tom Jordan)

“The process of melting we observe has probably been going on for thousands or maybe even millions of years and isn’t directly contributing to ice sheet change,” says lead researcher Tom Jordan, from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).

“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.”

The team of experts thinks radioactive rocks and hot water spurting from inside Earth’s crust is contributing to this additional melt, based on observations taken up to 750 kilometres (almost 470 miles) inland from the shore.

Without the latest in radar technology, we would only have surface observations to go off. The PolarGAP project that this research is part of is designed to fill in some of the gaps left by readings taken from the now-retired GOCE satellite.

As you may remember, data from GOCE – the Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer – was used to map the terrain under Antarctica in a study published earlier this month, by measuring slight fluctuations in gravitational pull.

Being able to map the hidden contours and key sources of heat underneath the ice sheet is crucial in working out what will happen to Antarctica in the years to come.

And now the PolarGAP project has provided some vital observations as part of that mission. We can’t be sure what’s causing the melting, but the hot rocks and heated water hypothesis seems the most likely – which future studies can take into account.

It’s not the only newly discovered source of heat under Antarctica either. A study published last year suggests an extensive amount of underground heating is going on in West Antarctica too, perhaps melting ice faster than it can accumulate.

Back in July scientists announced they had spotted what could be yet another volcanic heat source underneath Antarctica, this time beneath the Pine Island Glacier.

It’s worth repeating that scientists aren’t suggesting these heat sources will suddenly turn Antarctica to water in the space of a few years, but they are extra factors to make allowances for as we measure the ongoing effects of climate change.

As geothermal heat sources such as the newly identified one have likely been around for a long, long time, we’re not off the hook when it comes to causing accelerated ice melt at the North and South Poles.

The next step is working out how these hot rocks could influence the ice shifts of the future.

“This was a really exciting project, exploring one of the last totally unsurveyed regions on our planet,” says Jordan. “Our results were quite unexpected, as many people thought this region of Antarctica was made of ancient and cold rocks, which had little impact on the ice sheet above.”

“We show that even in the ancient continental interior, the underlying geology can have a significant impact on the ice.”

The research has been published in Scientific Reports.


6 Comments on "A Hidden Radioactive Heat Source Seems To Be Melting Antarctica from Below"

  1. makati1 on Thu, 22nd Nov 2018 7:17 pm 

    Antarctica has 91 volcanoes at last count. As ice melts on the continent, it allows the underlying rock to rise, opening new fissures and hot spots. There is no way to predict how these are going to affect the melt speed, but they can only speed it up.

    The world is changing and man cannot do anything to stop it. All we can do is adjust until the climate changes so much that we go extinct. The rate of change seems to be accelerating, which is why we may not be here to celebrate 2100.

  2. Dredd on Fri, 23rd Nov 2018 12:21 pm 

    “What could be happening”

    The humble Oil-Qaeda bed-time story (Humble Oil-Qaeda).

  3. Dredd on Fri, 23rd Nov 2018 12:26 pm 

    This is like saying the volcano at Yosemite is causing the glaciers in glacier bay Alaska to melt.

    Antarctica is bigger than the continental US, so what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas.

    The ocean warming at deep depths is melting Antarctica ice sheet termini (Antarctica 2.0 – 6).

  4. Go Speed Racer on Fri, 23rd Nov 2018 4:07 pm 

    Here is an article that explains how to fix global warming.

    It’s fairly easy, distribute sulfate aerosols at 65,000 feet.

    Aircraft could be designed to do this, spreading the sulfates in their jet exhaust. And there could probably be overlap with commercial aircraft needs. (It would be less economical to fly at those altitudes, but the aircraft could be subsidized by the government as policy, to carry a mix of sulfate particles and cargo.

    The effect mimics global cooling already seen when a volcano erupts.

    Also it’s fairly dirt cheap to implement, when paid for by governments.

    The naysayers whine that the effects cannot be modeled and it might cause rainfall reduction. The naysayers want us all to ride bicycles, sip latte’s and garden in our yards.

    But they really don’t have any objection at all, because if the effects were proven to be an issue, just stop doing it and the particles go away.

    Perhaps the responses of the naysayers is what’s most interesting in this situation. Maybe they just enjoy perpetual hand-wringing and whining over unsolved problems.

    Even Trump could get onboard with this one, he could repurpose his Space Force and finally they would have something to do.

  5. Here we go again on Sat, 24th Nov 2018 2:48 am 

    The source is “Science Alert”….hmm

    An Alert About Science Alert
    Science Alert ( and Science Alert ( and are not the same! This posting is about spam from the latter outfit, which was on Beall’s list. The domain is registered to Instra Corporation Pty, Ltd., whose unedifying contact information is Domain Manager,Cloud308, PO Box q126208, Dubai 126208, +971.562218164,

    The home page states (2/1/18) that “Our business is to manage the knowledge and disseminate the new discoveries globally. Science Alert publishes close to 150 academic and professional journals.” But it is hard not to be suspicious of journals with names like “American Journal of Food Technology” (the first on the publisher’s list) –especially when the address for Science Alert (on the contact form) is
    Office Number 112, Al Noor Building, Near Bassam Center, P.O. Box 126208, Deira, Dubai, UAE.
    There is no address for the “American Journal.” The editor-in-chief is Dr. Om Prakash Chauhan. No editorial board is listed, but an unrelated journal has an editor with this name and an address of “Scientist ‘E’, Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL), Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), Siddarthanagar, Mysore, India.” It could be that the only American thing about the journal is its name. A journal by the same name comes from another flaky-looking publisher, Science and Education publishing (SciEP). Science Alert’s American Journal is said to be published by “Academic Journals Inc., USA.”

    Who is behind this group I wonder?

  6. Cloggie on Sat, 24th Nov 2018 4:10 am 

    I’m betting it is an advanced, hidden civilization under ice of fled Natzis. “The Boys from Antarctica”. Their nuclear power stations are generating so much heat that the ice begins to melt. Busted!

    A bit like how the police of the Dutch city of Haarlem catches illegal weed-growers, who with artificial light, produced by illegally tapped electricity, grow their stuff on the attic. But if the snow falls everything comes out:


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