The particular shape outlined in an area of Antartica’s icy terrain presents clues of a vast subterranean canyon that could possibly rival the Grand Canyon, a new BBC report suggests. The undiscovered region, called “Elizabeth Land,” could be over 1,000km long and 1km deep in some pockets. A geophysical survey is currently being conducted over the area.
“We know from other areas of Antarctica that the shape of the ice surface is obviously dependent on the shape of the landscape underneath – because the ice is flowing over that landscape,” explained Dr Stewart Jamieson, from Durham University, UK. “When we look in Princess Elizabeth Land with satellite data, there seem to be some linear features in the surface ice that to us look very reminiscent of a canyon.”
He adds that researchers have traced the faint lines from the center of Elizabeth Land directly to the north coast. Possibly the canyon system is connected by a subglacial lake, which if confirmed, would measure up 1,250 square km, about 80 times the size of Windemere, England’s largest lake.
Radar data gathered in separate locations augments the theory. It shows land mass, specifically rock-bed, below the thick ice. Professor Martin Siegert of Imperial College London, UK said, “Discovering a gigantic new chasm that dwarfs the Grand Canyon is a tantalising prospect. Geoscientists on Antarctica are carrying out experiments to confirm what we think we are seeing from the initial data, and we hope to announce our findings at a meeting of the ICECAP2 collaboration, at Imperial, later in 2016.”
Although most of Antartica’s topography has been fully surveyed, two “Poles of Ignorance” need to be scanned. One of them is Princess Elizabeth Land, the other is Recovery Basin, also located in East Antarctica, and both of which are now focal points of rigorous study.
International teams of scientists from the U.S., UK, Australia, China, and other nations are detailing the ice with sensors covering a vast swath of Antarctica. When completed, this data will provide scientists not only a picture of what exists beneath but how the continent would continue to react to a warming climate. In order to engineer sensors, scientists need to know the shape of the subterranean rock bed.