A massive canyon has been found beneath Antarctica’s Ferrigno Glacier, and the giant hole could rival the Grand Canyon — and may also hasten ice loss on the world’s coldest continent.
NewsOxy reports that massive valley, dubbed the Ferrigno Rift, was revealed by ice-penetrating radar on a recent expedition by researchers from Britain. Robert Bingham, the lead researcher and a glaciologist at the University of Aberdeen, stated:
“If you stripped away all of the ice here today, you’d see a feature every bit as dramatic as the huge rift valleys you see in Africa and in size as significant as the Grand Canyon.”
The massive valley under Antarctica is also contributing to melting ice on the continent, according to Fausto Ferraccioli, Bingham’s co-author and geophysicist from British Antarctic Survey, who explained that the valley under the ice allows warmer ocean waters to contact glacial ice. Ferraccioli adds:
“What this study shows is that this ancient rift basin, and the others discovered under the ice that connect to the warming ocean, can influence contemporary ice flow and may exacerbate ice losses by steering coastal changes further inland.”
David Vaughan, of the British Antarctic Survey’s Ice2sea program, spoke about the massive valley beneath Antarctica, and why it is an important discovery, noting that:
“Thinning ice in West Antarctica is currently contributing nearly 10% of global sea level rise. It’s important to understand this hot spot of change so we can make more accurate predictions forfuture sea level rise.”
The valley, which lies underneath the Ferrigno Ice Stream, was discovered in 2010 when researchers spent three months doing fieldwork on Antarctic ice loss. The area it was discovered in West Antarctica, had not been explored in about 50 years.
According to The Huffington Post, Bingham and his field assistant Chris Griffiths embarked on their nine-week trip into the Antarctic during the 2009-2010 field season, in order to survey the Ferrigno Glacier, a spot where humans have only visited once before. The area is the site of the largest ice loss in West Antarctica over the last decade.
The two-man team set out to the Ferrigno Glacier aboard snowmobiles, dragging radar equipment behind them. The area is notorious for terrible weather, and the pair were expecting to see bad weather, but were not expecting to see anything particularly interesting. Bingham recalled that:
“It was literally one of the first days that we were driving across the ice stream, doing what we thought was a pretty standard survey, that I saw the bed of the ice just dropping away.”
Bingham drove back over the area a few times just to check the data, because of the sudden drop. He stated:
“We got the sense that there was something really exciting under there. It was one of the most exciting science missions I’ve ever had.”
The team hopes to go back to do more research on the newly discovered canyon below Antarctica.