A recent survey of the ocean floor surrounding Antarctic and Arctic sea ice has revealed stunning images of strange swirling patterns and meandering lines. Some of the lines appear to be arranged in parallel patterns or concentric rings which stretch for dozens of kilometers across the sea floor. The survey was conducted by the British Antarctic Survey, a group of marine geologists and glaciologists who have been compiling an atlas of underwater glacial formations and landforms. To capture these 3D images, special research vessels equipped with echo-sounding sensors made a careful sweep of the seafloor much in the same way satellites compile the images that make up Google Earth and other 3D atlases.
In a presentation given at the 2017 European Geosciences Union conference in Vienna, the researchers behind the discovery of these strange lines assure there is a reasonable scientific explanation for them. According to Kelly Hogan, a marine geophysicist with the British Antarctic Survey, the strange lines are essentially the ‘fingerprints’ left by the bottoms glaciers and other formations of ice as they slowly scraped across what is now the sea bottom. Many of these lines took tens of thousands of years to carve out while glaciers contracted or expanded due to climate shifts:
It’s a huge achievement to bring together all these images in a way that will enable us to interpret the polar seafloor landscape like never before. And it’s a beautiful representation of what the seafloor can tell us about the past, much like a tree ring.
Interestingly, the British Antarctic Survey’s Julian Dowdeswell claims that these underwater glacial lineations resemble geological features which today are above ground in areas which were under water long, long ago:
Glacial lineations that are several kilometres long are found across the Murzuq Basin in Libya, formed by an ice sheet that grew over Africa around 450 million years ago when the continent was sitting over the South Pole. These “ancient” glacial landforms are strikingly similar to the features we see on the seafloor around Antarctica today that were made by an expanded Antarctic Ice Sheet during the last glacial cold period.
These lines will no doubt soon be cited as evidence of climate change in our planet’s recent geological past and perhaps be made to serve as some sort of warning of the impending climate disaster we all claim to fear but do nothing to stop. Or is it that we’re powerless to stop it? Humans, after all, exist primarily to expel carbon into the air. If we stop doing it, we literally die. Also, if those ancient organisms didn’t want to be used as fuel for dirtbikes, lawnmowers, and aircraft carriers, then why did they leave behind such combustible remains?
Sorry, glaciers. At least your neat-looking etchings will remain entombed for eons on the seafloor deep beneath our soon-to-be hot, flooded planet.