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Has Antarctica Given Up Its Largest Secret? The World’s Largest Canyon

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. (Image: Rob Oo via Compfight cc)
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. (Image: Rob Oo via Compfight cc)

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:

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:

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:

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.

 Drainage patterns across Princess Elizabeth Land, Antarctica, with and without canyons and lake superimposed. A: Bedmap2 (Fretwell et al., 2013) subglacial hydraulic potential drainage catchments. B: Canyonized Bedmap2 (see the Data Repository [see footnote 1]) subglacial hydraulic potential drainage catchments. C: Ice-free Bedmap2 fluvial drainage catchments. Both A and B have been calculated without the lake and canyons being taken into account. The underlying satellite imagery is from RADARSAT (Jezek et al., 2002). (Image: Geology)

Drainage patterns across Princess
Elizabeth Land, Antarctica, with and without
canyons and lake superimposed. A: Bedmap2
(Fretwell et al., 2013) subglacial hydraulic
potential drainage catchments. B:
Canyonized Bedmap2 (see the Data Repository
[see footnote 1]) subglacial hydraulic
potential drainage catchments. C: Ice-free
Bedmap2 fluvial drainage catchments. Both
A and B have been calculated without the
lake and canyons being taken into account.
The underlying satellite imagery is from
RADARSAT (Jezek et al., 2002). (Image: Geology)

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:

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.

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