There are mountains the size of the European Alps in Antarctica, but you can't see them. In fact, they weren't even discovered until the 1950s. How can you hide mountains reaching nearly 15,000 feet high? Try a three mile layer of ice on top.
Given the fact that the Gamburtsev Mountains are hidden, they have earned themselves the nickname "Ghost" Mountains, but what the history of these mountains has long puzzled scientists. Now, researchers from the British Antarctic Survey and a team of international scientists believe they have solved mystery of mountains that they say are just about 250 million years old, according to BBC. BBC reports that scientists hoped to gain an understanding of the mountain range's history to give them insight into climate studies. But what's really novel about the research is how they went about researching a mountain range they couldn't even really see:
"Surveying these mountains was an incredible challenge, but we succeeded and it's produced a fascinating story," Dr FaustoFerraccioli from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) told BBC News.
This multinational effort in 2008/2009 flew aircraft back and forth across the east of the White Continent, mapping the shape of the hidden mountain system using ice-penetrating radar.
Other instruments recorded the local gravitational and magnetic fields, while seismometers were employed to probe the deep Earth.
The AGAP team believes all this data can now be meshed into a credible narrative for the Gamburtsevs' creation and persistence through geological time.
National Geographic describes how the team used MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to see even beyond the topography of the mountain, but into its crust. What the research showed, National Geographic reports, is that the Gamburtsevs seem to be on top of an even older mountain range, which they believe dates back more than a billion years. This mountain range is believed to have eroded, but the mountains began to form again millions of years later to become what they are today and later became encased in ice:
"The whole [mountain range] was encased in ice and literally preserved in the deep freeze," Ferraccioli said.
"Otherwise they would have been eroded, and we wouldn't have seen much at all."
UPI reports Carol Finn with the U.S. Geological Survey as saying that the fact that this range was created by a series of events -- not a "single tectonic event" that scientists are used to seeing -- could be useful for learning other mountain belt histories.
BBC has more:
"This research really solves the mystery of how you can have young-looking mountains in the middle of an old continent," said US principal investigator Dr Robin Bell from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University.
"In this case, the original Gamburtsevs probably completely eroded away only to come back, phoenix-like. They've had two lives," she told BBC News.
Next, the researchers seek to drill inside the mountain, hoping to analyze air bubbles that could provide details about the past environment. The research was published in Nature.
Note: This article has been updated since it's original posting, adding "million" after 250.