October 17, 2008

Ghost Peaks, Buried in Ice

I haven't been posting very much, have I? It's felt hard to make the time. Yes, yes, the global financial system is imploding, and the conventional wisdom among the chattering classes is to embrace the policies which brought Herbert Hoover such fame, while the Central Planning Board of the future socialist state may need to make room in its lobby for statues of Paulson and Bernanke beside those to von Mises and von Hayek, and Engels is vindicated as a prophet. (Of course Fox news reassures us that everything is fundamentally sound.) The political question of the moment seems to be whether America is ready to assassinate its first black president*. (With ancillary queries: Can a finite-state automaton — not even a push-down stack machine! — be elected to national office? Can there be anything more un-American than enabling ordinary people to discover their united powers and individual potentials, and is it Maoist or Stalinist un-Americanism, or, even more insidious, rootless cosmopolitanism?) Momentous though they are, it's important to recognize that there are all crises of the day, raised up for a time by Fortune's wheel to vex us, but soon to fall as the wheel turns and others take their place.

A while back some people got their shorts in a twist over turning on the Large Hadron Collider, which would, indeed, have mattered more. (Not that the election doesn't matter.) But that was idiotic; far more energetic reactions routinely happen with cosmic rays in the upper atmosphere, just inconveniently located away from detectors. If they were going to turn the Earth into a black hole or a lump of strange matter, it would've happened already.

No, none of these are causes for lasting concern. (Unlike bugs in Soviet-era pattern-recognition code.) But this has me terrified:

It is perhaps the last great Antarctic expedition - to find an explanation for why there is a great mountain range buried under the White Continent.

The Gamburtsevs match the Alps in scale but no-one has ever seen them because they are covered by up to 4km of ice.

Geologists struggle to understand how such a massif could have formed and persisted in the middle of Antarctica.

Now, an international team is setting out on a deep-field survey to try to get some answers.

The group comprises scientists, engineers, pilots and support staff from the UK, the US, Germany, Australia, China and Japan.

The ambitious nature of the project - working in Antarctica's far interior - has required an exceptional level of co-ordination and co-operation.

..."There are two easy ways to make mountains," explained Dr Robin Bell, from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who is a lead US researcher on the expedition. "One is colliding continents, but after they collide they tend to erode; and the last collision was 500-million-plus years ago. They shouldn't be there.

"The other way is a hotspot, [with volcanoes punching through the crust] like in Hawaii; but there's no good evidence for underneath the ice sheet being that hot.

"I like to say it's rather like being an archaeologist and opening up a tomb in a pyramid and finding an astronaut sitting inside. It shouldn't be there."

... The expedition gets under way in the next few weeks and will take some two-and-a-half months to complete.

Space-travelers. In tombs. In an inaccessible, highly anomalous mountain-range in Antartica. Do the fools know nothing? Or do they know only too much?
I am forced into speech because men of science have refused to follow my advice without knowing why. It is altogether against my will that I tell my reasons for opposing this contemplated invasion of the Antarctic — with its vast fossil hunt and its wholesale boring and melting of the ancient ice caps. And I am the more reluctant because my warning may be in vain...
*: I was sure this was an Onion man-in-the-street question, but evidently not; I wish I knew who I stole it from.

Update, 11 November 2008: It just gets worse and worse; the Gamburtsevs appear to be both as tall as the Alps, and 500 million years old. These are things that should not be (geophysically).

At least the continent of our doom is beautiful and sublime...

Manual trackback: Inverse Square; Brad DeLong (I believe his title translates as "In his office on Frew Street, the author procrastinates on grant proposals")

Cthulhiana; The Continuing Crises; The Beloved Republic; The Dismal Science

Posted by crshalizi at October 17, 2008 03:03 | permanent link

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