Science

Three Massive Canyons Discovered in Antarctica

Three Massive Canyons Discovered in Antarctica”

They provide a "road" for the ice to flow from the major East Antarctic Ice Sheet to the smaller West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Although we have extensive data from satellites from most areas of the world, there is still a gap around the South Pole area, which is not covered by satellites due to the inclination of their orbits.

The space agency is unable to gather the data itself, since most satellites are unable to observe the South Pole as spacecrafts can typically only fly up to about 83 degrees in latitude.

The insights for Dr Winter's paper come from an airborne ice-penetrating radar.

Antarctica's ice sheets look like they're stable enough to last forever, but that might not be true.

The team, led by Northumbria University, has mapped for the first time three vast, subglacial valleys in West Antarctica.

" These troughs channelise ice from the centre of the continent, taking it to the coast", discussed Dr Winter season.

"If climatic conditions change in Antarctica, we can expect that the ice in these canyons will melt and flow towards the sea much faster".

"Massive" is no understatement: The largest of the three is more than 200 miles long, its width in places spanning 20 miles, and certain parts more than a mile deep.

The largest of the three newly discovered troughs almost equals the distance between Washington DC and New York City.

The two other troughs are similarly large. The other two are nearly equally big: the Patuxent Trough is more than 300km long and over 15km wide, while the Offset Rift Basin is 150km long and 30km wide.

"That makes the canyons really important, and we simply didn't know they existed before now", Kate Winter, a researcher at Northumbria University in the United Kingdom and the lead author of the paper, told the BBC.

'If the ice sheet thins or retreats, these topographically-controlled corridors could facilitate enhanced flow of ice further inland, and could lead to the West Antarctic ice divide moving, ' Dr Winter said. "This would, in turn, increase the speed and rate at which ice flows out from the center of Antarctica to its edges, leading to an increase in global sea levels".

The Antarctic ice layers tend to collect air bubbles, which the researchers date back and use to analyze the climate that prevailed millions of years ago. Ice streams away on either side, through the channels - to the Weddell Sea in the east and the Ross Sea in the west.

And then researchers from the University of Washington (who put together the new evidence) hauled ice-penetrating radars to take a closer look, finding a spot that would be a flawless candidate just 3 miles (5 kilometers) from where the Princeton sample was found.

" Incredibly, the South Pole area is among the least comprehended frontiers in the entire of Antarctica", stated PolarGAP's principal investigator, Dr Fausto Ferraccioli from BAS.



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