A gigantic ancient trench - deeper than the Grand Canyon - has been discovered by a team of British researchers.
The researchers from Newcastle University, the University of Bristol's Glaciology Centre, the British Antarctic
Survey and the universities of Edinburgh, Exeter, and York, spent three seasons investigating and mapping
the region in West Antarctica.
They investigated and mapped the Ellsworth Subglacial Highlands -- an ancient mountain range buried beneath
several kilometers of Antarctic ice, using data from satellites and ice-penetrating radars towed behind snowmobiles
and on-board small aircraft.
Trench lies beneath Antarctic ice. Courtesy of Newcastle University
The giant trench is up to 3 kilometers deep, more than 300 kilometers long and up to 25 kilometers across.
In places, the floor of this valley is more than 2000 meters below sea level.
This is in other words not a new discovery. However, scientists collected more data that contribute to better
understanding of complex Antarctica's subglacial structures.
The mountain range and deep valley were carved millions of years ago by a small icefield similar to those of
the present-day Antarctic Peninsula, or those of Arctic Canada and Alaska.
"The discovery of this huge trough, and the characterisation of the surrounding mountainous landscape, was
incredibly serendipitous," Dr Neil Ross from Newcastle University and the paper's lead author said.
“While the idea of West Antarctic Ice Sheet growth and decay over the past few million years has been discussed
for decades, the precise location where the ice sheet may originate from in growth phases, and decay
back to in periods of decay, has not been known," Professor Martin Siegert, Professor of Geosciences at the University of Bristol, said.
“By looking at the topography beneath the ice sheet using a combination of ice-penetrating radio-echo
sounding and satellite imagery, we have revealed a region which possesses classic glacial geomorphic
landforms, such as u-shaped valleys and cirques, that could only have been formed by a small ice cap, similar to
those seen at present in the Canadian and Russian High Arctic. The region uncovered is, therefore, the site of ice sheet
genesis in West Antarctica.”