Vast Find Made in Unknown Region of Antarctica

We know more about the surface of Mars than the bed of Antarctica
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 14, 2016 7:00 AM CST
Vast Find Made in Unknown Region of Antarctica
A scuba diver tests the water at the Chilean scientific station Escudero on King George Island in the South Shetland Islands in Antarctica on Jan. 21, 2015.   (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

For more than 50 years, scientists from across the globe have been painstakingly mapping both poles, trying to get an accurate sense of the rock hidden beneath the ice sheets. Now, thanks to satellite data from multiple organizations and "serendipitous reconnaissance radio-echo sounding data" over the canyons of Antarctica, scientists report in the journal Geology that a canyon system lurks beneath the ice in a largely unexplored region of eastern Antarctica, and it's so massive it appears to dwarf the Grand Canyon. A year ago some of the same scientists announced the discovery of another giant chasm beneath the ice in western Antarctica, the Ellsworth Trough, which is 200 miles long and in some places nearly 2 miles deep.

The latest finding is in an almost completely unknown region of Antarctica called Princess Elizabeth Land—"in fact, the bed of Antarctica is less well known than the surface of Mars," lead researcher Dr. Stewart Jamieson says in a press release. Along with the Recovery Basin, the two regions have been dubbed the "Poles of Ignorance." This latest survey was prompted by satellite imaging that, "because the ice is flowing over that landscape," as one researcher tells the BBC, hinted at the grand topography beneath. Though it still needs to be confirmed, this canyon system looks to be more than 600 miles long and as deep as half a mile in places. (The Grand Canyon, by comparison, is 277 miles long and up to a mile deep.) The canyons appear to connect to a subglacial lake that's nearly 800 square miles in area, which is 80 times the size of the largest lake in England. (Life can exist that far below the ice.)

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