Researchers discovered remains of lost continents hiding deep under Antarctic ice using gravity data from ESA's GOCE satellite.
The GOCE satellite (Gravity field and Ocean Circulation Explorer) Earth satellite for more than four years, from 2009 to 2013. Using the GOCE gravity data set, the researchers have gained new knowledge about its structure and properties Antarctica is one of the most important but less understood parts of the Earth.
GOCE examines the masses of the earth by measuring the changes in the gravitational field of the Earth. Since the masses in the continents and deep within the Earth are not constant or equally distributed, gravitational force varies from one location to another, and these gravity abnormalities can be used to solve structures deep down the surface.
During its four-year mission, the GOCE flew at an altitude of just 255 kilometers, more than 500 kilometers closer to normal Earth observation satellites, and measured the Earth's gravity more accurately than any previous mission. This distance also allowed the GOCE satellites to receive very accurate measurements of Earth's gravity over Antarctica, which is a relatively difficult location due to the distance and dense ice sheet coverage.
The satellite gravity data, when combined with seismological data, produced more accurate 3D maps of the deep Antarctic interior and provided the researchers with an excellent tool for exploring the structure of the less explored area on Earth.
"These gravitational images reinvent our ability to study the less understood continent on Earth, Antarctica," said co-author Fausto Ferraccioli, Scientific Director of Geology and Geophysics at the British Antarctic Research (BAS).
"In Eastern Antarctica we see an exciting mosaic of geological features that reveal fundamental similarities and differences between the crust beneath Antarctica and other continents with which it was united 160 million years ago."
The evidence of gravity shows that Western Antarctica has a thinner crust and a superior mantle compared to that of the Eastern Antarctic, which consists of a mosaic of old croton fragments separated by newer serogroups, revealing its ties with Africa, India, Australia, Zealand and South America.
"It's exciting to see that the direct use of gravity levels, measured for the first time with GOCE, leads to a new independent appearance in the Earth – even under a thick ice sheet," said the GOCE mission scientist ESA Roger Haagmans. "It also provides a framework for how the continents were probably linked in the past before they were taken from the plate."