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World's largest canyon?

14 January 2016

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The world's largest canyon may lie under the Antarctic ice sheet, according to analysis of satellite data by a team of scientists, led by Durham University.

Although the discovery needs to be confirmed by direct measurements, the previously unknown canyon system is thought to be over 1,000km long and in places as much as 1km deep, comparable in depth to the Grand Canyon in the USA, but many times longer.

The canyon system is made up of a chain of winding and linear features buried under several kilometres of ice in one of the last unexplored regions of the Earth's land surface: Princess Elizabeth Land (PEL) in East Antarctica. Very few measurements of the ice thickness have been carried out in this particular area of the Antarctic, which has led to scientists dubbing it one of Antarctica's two 'Poles of Ignorance'.

The researchers believe that the landscape beneath the ice sheet has probably been carved out by water and is either so ancient that it was there before the ice sheet grew or it was created by water flowing and eroding beneath the ice.

Source: Durham University

Image credit: Sun Bo - Research aircraft