Mind-Boggling Canyons Discovered Beneath Antartica’s Ice


Big mountain ranges and three huge, deep subglacial valleys hidden beneath the Antarctica ice were discovered by the researchers. The findings, are the first to emerge from extensive ice penetrating radar data collected in Antarctica which is the part of the European Space Agency PolarGAP project.

The study revealed these monstrous canyons are on par with Grand Canyon. The discovery is both wow-worthy and very important in understanding what will happen to Antarctica’s ice as it melts.

Inspite of extensive satellite data that help image the surface of the Earth and its deep interior, there was a gap around the South Pole area, which is not covered by satellites due the inclination of their orbits. Ice-penetrating satellites have helped researchers get a grip on the bedrock in other parts of the Antarctic but not the pole. PolarGAP project was therefore designed to fill in the gap in the satellite data coverage of the South Pole and in particular acquire the missing gravity data. 

The data uncovers the topography which controls how quickly ice flows between the East and West Antarctic ice sheets. The team is led by researchers from Northumbria University in the UK, has mapped for the first time three vast, subglacial valleys in West Antarctica.

Understanding the region’s under-ice topography is very important because in West Antarctica, where some coastal glaciers could be entering an extremely unstable state, increasing the risk of catastrophic sea level rise. To get a grip on this under-ice terra incognita, scientists flew a plane with radar over the pole. 

The biggest of the troughs dubbed Foundation Trough is 350 kilometers (218 miles) long, up to 35 kilometers (22 miles) wide, and 2,000 meters (6,260 feet) deep. For a little comparison, the Grand Canyon runs 446 kilometers (277 miles) long and maxes out at 28.8 kilometers (18 miles) wide and 1,829 meters (6,000 feet) deep. The other two canyons are also impressive in scale.

Kate Winter, a researcher at Northumbria University who led the study said, “If the West Antarctic Ice Sheet starts to thin and shrink in size, an increase in the speed at which ice flows through these troughs could lead to the ice divide moving and increase the rate at which ice flows out from the center of West Antarctica to its edges.