A satellite image shows a research station in East Antarctica’s Princess Elizabeth Land. Photo by NASA/EO
DURHAM, England, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- New satellite data suggest the world's largest canyon system, as deep as the Grand Canyon but several times longer, is hiding under the antarctic ice sheet.
The discovery was made by scientists at Durham University in England studying the subglacial landscape in Princess Elizabeth Land, a region of East Antarctica.
"This is a region of the Earth that is bigger than the UK and yet we still know little about what lies beneath the ice," lead researcher Stewart Jamieson, a geography professor at Durham, said in a press release.
"In fact, the bed of Antarctica is less well known than the surface of Mars," Jamieson added. "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."
The newly discovered canyon system isn't visible to the naked eye; it's hidden deep beneath the ice sheet. Researchers aren't sure whether the canyon was formed prior to the ice sheet or carved over time by subglacial melting.
Satellite data suggest the canyon is 0.6 miles deep in some places and more than 620 miles long, but researchers say more direct measurements, using radio-echo sounding instruments, are needed to confirm the canyon's presence and size.
A radio-echo sounding survey is currently underway; results are expected to be published later this year.
In addition to the potentially record-breaking canyon, satellite data also revealed the presence of a massive subglacial lake, boasting a surface area of more than 482 square miles.
"Our analysis provides the first evidence that a huge canyon and a possible lake are present beneath the ice in Princess Elizabeth Land," concluded Jamieson. "It's astonishing to think that such large features could have avoided detection for so long."