The Antarctic Ice Shelters Enormous Canyon

The Antarctic Ice Shelters Enormous Canyon

A huge canyon that is much longer than the iconic Grand Canyon may be buried underneath the Antarctic Ice Sheet, a new research suggests.

Radio waves and satellite images have led researchers to believe that a canyon that is more than 680 miles long (about 1,100 kilometres) and 0.6 miles deep (one km), is hidden beneath the ice. To put things into perspective, the Grand Canyon in Arizona is about 277 miles long (about 455 km) and one mile deep (1.6 km).

Martin Siegert, an earth scientist at Imperial College London, said that finding a chasm that is bigger than the Grand Canyon would be more than exciting. Currently, geoscientists in Antarctica are trying to figure out – through various experiments – whether the initial data was indeed correct, according to Siegert.

The possible canyon was detected in the Princess Elizabeth Land – the sector of the Australian Antarctic Territory and Cape Penck, in East Antarctica. As they were measuring the ice thickness in the area, the researchers found hints of a river network under the ice sheet. A glacial lake that is as big as 483 square miles (about 1,250 square km) may also be part of the river network, the researchers said.

Neil Ross, a researcher at Newcastle University who also participated in the new study, said that the data on the possible canyon came from the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA), U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), the European Space Agency (ESA), as well as other agencies.

The possible canyon network and the lake could have been either carved out by flowing water beneath the ice sheet, or they could in fact be older than the glacier, according to the researchers.

To measure geological features in the region, the International Climate and Environmental Change Assessment Project (ICECAP) used the reflection of radio waves and took radio-echo soundings. Based on the radio-echo measurements, the researchers managed to confirm the existence of at least some canyons that are about and 0.6 miles (one km) deep. Further radio-echo surveys will be conducted for a detailed analysis of the network.

Dr. Stewart Jamieson, a Lecturer in the Department of Geography at Durham University in the UK, said that little is known about the Princess Elizabeth Land, and that the surface of Mars is in fact more known than the bed of Antarctica. Better knowledge of the landscape may help scientists better understand how the ice sheet responds to global warming, Dr. Jamieson explained.

The initial findings of Siegert and his colleagues were published December 22 in the journal Geology.

Image Source: technvip