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News Release 11-111

New Map Reveals Giant Fjords Beneath East Antarctic Ice Sheet

Image of Duncan Young, research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Duncan Young discusses research in the Aurora Subglacial Basin.
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June 2, 2011

View a video with Duncan Young, research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin.

Scientists from the United States, United Kingdom and Australia have used ice-penetrating radar to create the first high-resolution topographic map of one of the last uncharted regions of Earth, the Aurora Subglacial Basin, an immense ice-buried lowland larger than Texas in East Antarctica.

The map reveals some of the largest fjords or ice cut channels on Earth, providing important insights into the history of ice in Antarctica.

Data from the study will help computer modelers improve their simulations of the Antarctic ice sheet and its potential impact on global sea level.

Because the basin lies kilometers below sea level, seawater could penetrate beneath the ice, causing portions of the ice sheet to collapse and float off to sea. Indeed, this work shows that the ice sheet has been significantly smaller in the past.

Funding for this research is provided by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Natural Environment Research Council (U.K.), the Australian Antarctic Division, the G. Unger Vetlesen Foundation (U.S.), the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC (Aus.) and the University of Texas at Austin's Jackson School of Geosciences.

For more information regarding this discovery, view the video sound bites of Duncan Young, research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin's Institute for Geophysics and lead author on the study, which appears today in the journal Nature.


Media Contacts
Deborah Wing, NSF, (703) 292-5344,

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2017, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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