According to a study published in the journal Geology a huge canyon might be hiding under the Antarctic ice sheet. The study was conducted by an international research team formed of scientists from Australia, America, United Kingdoms, India and China.
The lead author of the study, Dr. Stewart Jamieson from Durham University UK, the Department of Geography, said that this analysis offers the first evidence that a massive canyon and a lake exist under the ice in Princess Elizabeth Land. He remarked that it is amazing how these large features have escaped the scientists’ detection for such a long time.
The research team has managed to make these findings using new acquisition, combination and open availability of satellite data from numerous organizations such as the UD National Snow and Ice Data Center, ESA and NASA. The team also used radio-echo sounding data provided by the ICECAP project from previous Antarctic field seasons.
Co-author of the study Neil Ross from Newcastle University explained that Antarctic scientists have recognized for a long time that due to the way in which the ice flows the landscape underneath the Antarctic ice sheet was reflected in the topography of the surface ice sheet. But despite this the deep canyons and the possible existence of a lake were entirely overlooked by scientists, Ross explained.
Researchers estimate that the massive canyon is part of a sub glacial lake that measures around 486.63 square miles. Most likely the canyon was created by water and the canyon could have been there long before the Antarctic ice sheet formed. However, according to the data there is another possibility that the canyon was formed by erosion because of the water which flowed under an ice sheet which was already present there.
Now the researchers are focusing on a separate airbourne survey to confirm that the canyon and the lake are there and to find out their size. The new data might be available later this year. Even though the canyon is not visible to the naked eye, the satellites which analyzed the surface of the ice sheet were able to pick up traces of the canyon system. In addition by sending radio waves through the ice the researchers were also able to pick up smaller segments.
Image Source: theresilientearth.com