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World's Biggest Canyon Hiding Under Antarctic Ice Sheet

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Analysis of satellite data of the Antarctic ice sheet has revealed a canyon system that dwarfs the Grand Canyon.

The Antarctic is home to the world’s largest canyon, according to a study of satellite data by scientists from Durham University in the UK.

“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,” said Dr Neil Ross, co-author of a research paper about the discovery, published in the journal ‘Geology.’

The massive canyon is thought to be over 1,000 km long, and as deep as 1 km in places. The Grand Canyon in Arizona, one of the Earth’s largest canyons, is 446km long, up to 29km wide in places and up to 1.6km deep.

The next step for scientists is to analyze the results of an airborne survey that is currently taking targeted radio-echo sounding measurements over the entire buried landscape, in order to confirm the discovery with direct measurements.

“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,” said lead researcher on the project, Dr Stewart Jamieson.

“This is a region of the Earth that is bigger than the UK 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,” Jamieson explained.


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