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Earth in Action

Antarctica's concealed mountains tell of wonders revealed by pure science

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3:39pm, December 12, 2011

In the desolation of East Antarctica lies a mountain range like no other: phantom peaks buried from view beneath thousands of meters of ice.

H.P. Lovecraft, the fantasy and horror writer, might well have been describing this range in his 1931 novella At the Mountains of Madness. In it, a geology professor leads an Antarctic expedition to mountains higher than the Himalayas, only to find insanity and death lurking beyond.

These days, Antarctic geologists may feel twinges of insanity when pondering the money and logistics needed to study the most inaccessible part of the most inaccessible continent. But these mountains, known as the Gamburtsevs, are arguably Earth’s last great terra incognita, and so exploring them has been a top scientific priority.

From March 2007 to March 2009—the two-year period questionably known as the International Polar Year—the range was the focus of a seven-nation push that tested both endurance

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