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'Fountain of Youth' Found in Antarctic Mountains

Nov 20, 2014 05:02 PM EST
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A "Fountain of Youth" has seemingly been found in certain Antarctic mountains, evidenced by its ageless saw-toothed and towering crags, according to a new study.

Though the Gamburtsev Mountains in the middle of Antarctica are modern versions of the old, worn-down Appalachians, their still sharp features more resemble the Rockies, which are nearly 200 million years younger.

Their fountain of youth, researchers say, lies in the mountains' icy covering that has sheathed the Gamburtsevs since the Last Continent went into a deep freeze 35 million years ago.

"The ice sheet acts like an anti-aging cream," the study's lead author, Timothy Creyts, a geophysicist at Columbia University, said in a statement. "It triggers a series of thermodynamic processes that have almost perfectly preserved the Gamburtsevs since ice began spreading across the continent."

What's more is that scientists discovered a vast network of lakes and rivers at the mountains' base. This is surprising considering that normally the presence of water speeds up erosion.

But as described in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, while rivers flow along the base of the ice sheet, high pressures from the overlying ice sheet push water up valleys in reverse. This uphill flow refreezes as it meets colder temperature from above, thus preserving these Antarctic mountains in time, making them seem ageless.

The oldest rocks in the Gamburtsevs formed more than a billion years ago, but due to the aforementioned process, referred to as divergent cooling, they appear much younger.

The Gamburtsevs weren't always immune to erosion and general wearing away. Some 200 million years ago when the supercontinent Gondwana separated it caused tectonic forces to push the land up again afterwards, leading to some erosion. But when the mountains entered a cooling phase 35 million years ago it created a layer of ice that allowed it to combat aging.

By understanding this ice sheet behavior, researchers hope to determine possibly how it can play into climate change in the future.

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