Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Mystery of the moving Antarctic lakes

RIVERS and mountains can move given enough time, but they don't normally move half a kilometre every year. Yet that is exactly what is happening to a bizarre group of Antarctic lakes. And the lakes seem to be moving far faster than the ice shelf on which they sit.

The 11 lakes are on the edge of the George VI ice shelf, a banana-shaped sheet of floating ice sandwiched between the Antarctic Peninsula and Alexander Island. They were first spotted in the 1970s but it was only last year that their wanderlust was identified.

Douglas MacAyeal at the University of Chicago gave undergraduate interns the "boring" job of digitising a series of satellite photographs of Antarctic lakes. One student, Claire LaBarbera, noticed that the lakes moved, relative to features on land, from year to year. "I thought, what a nice curiosity," MacAyeal says. Then he took a closer look and realised that the lakes were moving five to 10 times faster than the ice shelf, and in a different direction. Read More