A team of scientists, led by Durham University, believe that they have found the largest canyon in the world. They think that it’s buried under sheets of ice in the region of Princess Elizabeth Land, East Antarctica.
Based on preliminary satellite data, the canyon is expected to be over 600 miles long and around half a mile deep—the same as the Grand Canyon, but many times longer.
“It’s astonishing to think that such large features could have avoided detection for so long,” lead researcher Dr. Stewart Jamieson said in statement. “This is a region of the Earth that is bigger than the U.K. and yet we still know little about what lies beneath the ice. In fact, the bed of Antarctica is less well known than the surface of Mars.”
Princess Elizabeth Land is one of the largest unexplored area on earth, and has been dubbed by scientist as one of Antarctica’s two “Poles of Ignorance.”
Although invisible to the naked eye, the terrain beneath the glaciers can be identified from looking at the surface of the ice sheet. After trace of a canyon were seen in the satellite images, small parts of the canyon were found using radio-echo equipment.
The scientists are preparing for an airborne mission to radio-echo equipment to map the entirety of the canyon to confirm its size.
Beyond pure geography, the expedition could contribute to our understanding of climate change by better mapping the sub-glacial landscape.
“If we can gain better knowledge of the buried landscape we will be better equipped to understand how the ice sheet responds to changes in climate,” Dr. Jamieson said.