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Giant sheet of ice in the Antarctic

Map shows location of West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, and the location of Princess Elizabeth Land in relation to the twoWe know little about lies beneath the vast expanse of ice in Antarctica but researchers this week announced two new findings that boggle the mind – analysis of satellite imagery reveals that underneath Princess Elizabeth Land in East Antarctica, lies a hidden world  containing a canyon as deep and twice as long as the Grand Canyon and a massive subglacial lake estimated to be about 775 square miles in area.

Scientists first spotted signs of the canyon using satellite imagery. They then used radio-echo waves sent through the ice to confirm that a canyon did indeed exist, unseen, several miles beneath the ice. The canyon is believed to be over 600 miles long and in places, more than half-a-mile deep.   Researchers think the landscape underneath the ice sheet was carved out by water and is either so old, it was carved out before the ice sheet grew or was created by water flowing beneath the ice.

Antarctica is the coldest, driest, and windiest continent on the planet.  There are no permanent human residents in the continent but at any given time, there are around 1,000 to 5,000 researchers scattered throughout the land.  Oddly, even though it is covered with ice, it is considered a desert.

Scientists explained how little we know about Antarctica and how new knowledge of the area could help mankind in the future.

“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. In fact, the bed of Antarctica is less well known than the surface of Mars. 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.”

Satellite photo shows location of giant canyon and huge subglacial lake beneath Antarctic ice sheet

Sources: Geology, CNN, National Geographic, Newsweek

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