However, collecting meteorites in Antarctica is a physically stressful and dangerous business. But what if there was a “treasure map” showing the most likely places to find meteorites in Antarctica, for researchers to direct where to search?
Researchers from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands used artificial intelligence to create a type of treasure map to identify areas where meteorites can be found at high probability.
Veronica Tollenaar, who led the study published in Science Advances, said: “Through our analysis, we learned that satellite observations of temperature, ice flow rate, surface cover and geometry are good indications of the location of meteorites-rich areas. We expect the treasure map to be 80% accurate.”
Based on the study, scientists estimated that more than 300,000 meteorites exist on Antarctic landscapes, waiting to be found. This represents enormous scientific potential.
“We found many meteorites-rich areas we haven’t visited that are relatively close to research stations,” said Steve Lermett, who co-authored the study with assistant professor David Tax of the University of Delft.
Rocks have accumulated from space in Antarctica for thousands of years and have been preserved in the continent’s cold desert-like climate. Meeorites fall and become incown in ice sheets within the continent. As glaciers flow slowly, meteorites carry them.
If an iceberg hits a major obstacle, in areas such as trans- Antarctic mountains, ice rises and meteorites are brought to the surface.
In addition, dry Antarctic winds are gradually eroding ice, exposing meteorites. As more ice rises to the surface, the process is repeated. Given the time, a significant accumulation of meteorites occurs.
Meteorites come too small to be detected individually from space, but with indirect satellite measurements such as temperature, ice flow velocity, surface slope and the way the ice reflects radar signals, combing all that data and using machine learning, they said they could predict where meteorites would focus on the surface. One area known to contain meteorites is the continent’s blue ice areas. The contrasting blue ice makes meteorites easy to detect and collect during Antarctic fieldwork missions.