Antarctica Holds Subglacial Valley Bigger Than The Grand Canyon
January 14, 2014

Antarctica Holds Subglacial Valley Bigger Than The Grand Canyon

[ Watch the Video: A Giant Is Lurking Beneath Antarctica's Ice ]

Gerard LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

A team of scientists from Newcastle University, the University of Bristol’s Glaciology Centre, the British Antarctic Survey and the universities of Edinburgh, Exeter and York, have discovered a giant trench below the ice in Antarctica.

The research team has spent the last three seasons in the West Antarctic region investigating and mapping the area. Recently, they discovered a vast sub-glacial valley deeper than the Grand Canyon. It is 1.8 miles deep, 186.4 miles long, 15.5 miles across and certain sections of the floor are 6,500 feet below sea level.

After analyzing the data of the discovery, the researchers have a better understanding of how the West Antarctic Ice Sheet behaves and was formed. It also indicates what the size and shape of the Ice Sheet will be in a warmer climate.

Lead author of the paper, Dr. Neil Ross, from Newcastle University, said, “The discovery of this huge trough, and the characterisation of the surrounding mountainous landscape, was incredibly serendipitous. We had acquired ice penetrating radar data from both ends of this huge hidden valley, but we had no information to tell us what was in between. Satellite data was used to fill the gap, because despite being covered beneath several kilometres of ice, the valley is so vast that it can be seen from space. To me, this just goes to demonstrate how little we still know about the surface of our own planet. The discovery and exploration of hidden, previously-unknown landscapes is still possible and incredibly exciting, even now.”

“While the idea of West Antarctic Ice Sheet growth and decay over the past few million years has been discussed for decades, the precise location where the ice sheet may originate from in growth phases, and decay back to in periods of decay, has not been known," Martin Siegert, Professor of Geosciences at the University of Bristol, said in a statement.

"By looking at the topography beneath the ice sheet using a combination of ice-penetrating radio-echo sounding and satellite imagery, we have revealed a region which possesses classic glacial geomorphic landforms, such as u-shaped valleys and cirques, that could only have been formed by a small ice cap, similar to those seen at present in the Canadian and Russian High Arctic. The region uncovered is, therefore, the site of ice sheet genesis in West Antarctica," Siegert concluded.