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Scientists Find Huge Canyons Hidden Under Ice In Antarctica

May 26, 2018 07:47 AM EDT
Underneath the frozen landscape of Antarctica is a frozen world directing ice flow throughout the world, according to new research that discovered the existence of three massive valleys.
(Photo : Pixabay)

There is an entire ancient frozen world to discover beneath the ice sheets of Antarctica — and scientists just found a sliver of it.

In the first aerogeophysical survey of Antarctica, a team of researchers unearthed data that showed there are landforms including three vast and extremely deep subglacial valleys in the region's depths.

Exploring The Depths Of South Pole

The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, is part of the European Space Agency's PolarGAP project, which aims to use ice-penetrating radar data to help fill in the gaps of scientists' knowledge on the South Pole region, according to a report from British Antarctic Survey.

While satellites are able to provide a lot of information on the planet's surface and interior, their coverage of Antarctica is very limited since their orbits keep a portion of the region out of sight.

These new findings regarding subglacial valleys are the very first results to emerge from the PolarGAP project.

Discovering Three Gigantic Valleys

Using the radar data they collected, scientists mapped three massive, subglacial valleys in the West Antarctica: Foundation Trough, Patuxent Trough, and the Offset Rift Basin, each one at least 93 miles long and 9 miles wide.

All three are buried under way in the depths of the ice. BBC notes that the Foundation Trough, for one, is found under more than 1.2 miles of ice cover.

The Implications On Global Sea Level Rise

These incredibly large formations are expected to play a significant role in the wake of climate change, since the valleys help funnel the ice flow from the middle of the continent towards the coastline. When the ice sheets inevitably thin due to rising temperature, these subglacial troughs will contribute in the sea level rise.

"If the ice sheet thins or retreats, these topographically-controlled corridors could facilitate enhanced flow of ice further inland, and could lead to the West Antarctic ice divide moving," lead author Dr Kate Winter of Northumbria University explains in a statement. "This would, in turn, increase the speed and rate at which ice flows out from the center of Antarctica to its edges, leading to an increase in global sea levels."

The discovery of the valleys and their role is groundbreaking as it allows scientists to more accurately predict the effects of the thinning ice sheets.

This huge step means, Winter points out, that the scientific community can finally begin to answer questions that couldn't be answered until now.

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