Saturday, November 01, 2014 Headlines & Global News

Mile-Deep Subglacial Trough 'Serendipitously' Discovered In Icy Antarctica

By Rebekah Marcarelli r.marcarelli@hngn.com | Jan 14, 2014 03:32 PM EST

The trough is as low as 2,000 meters below sea level at certain points.
The trough is as low as 2,000 meters below sea level at certain points. (Photo : Newcastle University)

Researchers found a "subglacial trough" that is deeper than the massive Grand Canyon.

A research team mapped out an ancient mountain range that is buried underneath kilometers of Antarctic ice, a Newcastle University news release reported.

"The discovery of this huge trough, and the [characterization] of the surrounding mountainous landscape, was incredibly serendipitous," The paper's lead author Doctor Neil Ross of Newcastle University, said.

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The team looked at satellite and radar data over the course of three years in order to reveal the West Antarctic subglacial valley that is a whopping three kilometers (about one mile) deep; in some spots it is up to 2,000 meters below sea level. The iced-over valley also stretches for a length of 300 kilometers (about 186 miles) and is 25 kilometers (about 15 miles) wide.

"We had acquired ice penetrating radar data from both ends of this huge hidden valley, but we had no information to tell us what was in between. Satellite data was used to fill the gap, because despite being covered beneath several kilometres of ice, the valley is so vast that it can be seen from space," Ross said.

The preserved mountain range is believed to have been created by a "small icefield" similar to the one found in Antarctic Peninsula today.

The new research provided researchers with "unprecedented insight" into the "extent, thickness and behavior" of that icefield as well as how the West Antarctic Ice Sheet behaved in its youth. The team also learned a  great deal about the "size and shape" of the ice sheet that covers the newly-discovered mountain range and how it is affected by a warming world.

"To me, this just goes to demonstrate how little we still know about the surface of our own planet. The discovery and exploration of hidden, previously-unknown landscapes is still possible and incredibly exciting, even now," Ross said. 

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