The world’s largest canyon may have just been discovered, sitting beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, and is over twice as long as the Grand Canyon.
The massive canyon system and lake was found after analyzing satellite data. If the data proves to be correct, the canyon would stretch over 621 miles (1,000 kilometers) long, and could be up to 3,280 feet (1 kilometer) deep.
The study’s lead researcher, Stewart Jamieson of Durham University, said in a press release:
“Our analysis provides the first evidence that a huge canyon and a possible lake are present beneath the ice in Princess Elizabeth Land. It’s astonishing to think that such large features could have avoided detection for so long.
“This is a region of the Earth that is bigger than the U.K., and yet we still know little about what lies beneath the ice. In fact, the bed of Antarctica is less well known than the surface of Mars.
“If we can gain better knowledge of the buried landscape we will be better equipped to understand how the ice sheet responds to changes in climate.”
Although the discovery has yet to be confirmed, a team of scientists are performing radio-echo sounding of the entire region by air. By taking direct measurements of the canyon through the icy surface of Antarctica scientists will be able confirm the discovery.
Dr. Stewart Jamieson from Durham University explains the discovery of the Antarctic Canyons:
Professor Martin Siegert from the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, who co-authored the research, said:
“Discovering a gigantic new chasm that dwarfs the Grand Canyon is a tantalising prospect.
“Geoscientists in Antarctica are carrying out experiments to confirm what we think we are seeing from the initial data, and we hope to announce our findings at a meeting of the ICECAP2 collaboration, at Imperial, later in 2016.”
The previously unknown canyon travels through Princess Elizabeth Land in east Antarctica, which is a largely unexplored area. The canyon is thought to be buried under a layer of ice that’s more than a mile deep.
The initial findings have been published in the journal, Geology, by researchers from Durham and Newcastle Universities, Imperial College London, and international collaborators.
Neil Ross, and a study co-author from Newcastle University, said in the release:
“Antarctic scientists have long recognized that because the way ice flows, the landscape beneath the ice sheet was subtly reflected in the topography of the ice sheet surface. Despite this, these vast deep canyons and potential large lake had been overlooked entirely.
“Our identification of this landscape has only been possible through the recent acquisition, compilation, and open availability of satellite data by many different organizations (e.g. NASA, ESA and the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center).
“To whom we are very grateful, and because of some serendipitous reconnaissance radio-echo sounding data acquired over the canyons by the ICECAP project during past Antarctic field seasons.”
The scientists believe the canyon system is made up of a series of winding and linear features, in one of the last unexplored regions of the Earth’s land surface: Princess Elizabeth Land (PEL) in East Antarctica.
There has been very few measurements of the ice thickness carried out in this particular area of the Antarctic, which has led to scientists dubbing it one of Antarctica’s two “Poles of Ignorance.”
Co-Author Professor Martin Siegert, from the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, UK, said:
“Discovering a gigantic new chasm that dwarfs the Grand Canyon is a tantalising prospect. Geoscientists on Antarctica are carrying out experiments to confirm what we think we are seeing from the initial data, and we hope to announce our findings at a meeting of the ICECAP2 collaboration, at Imperial, later in 2016.
“Our international collaboration of U.S., U.K., Indian, Australian, and Chinese scientists are pushing back the frontiers of discovery on Antarctica like nowhere else on earth.
“But the stability of this understudied continent is threatened by global warming, so all the countries of the world now must rapidly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and limit the damaging effects of climate change.”
The research team was made up of scientists from Newcastle University, Imperial College London and Durham University in the UK, University of Texas at Austin, U.S.A, University of Western Australia, Australian Antarctic Division, University of Tasmania in Australia, and the Polar Research Institute of China.