From: Debra Goldberg, ENN
Published August 29, 2013 05:49 PM

Hidden Mega-Canyon Discovered in Greenland

With Google’s street-view technology, one would think the entire Earth has been mapped. However, scientists from Bristol’s School of Geographical Sciences have recently discovered a mega-canyon hidden deep beneath Greenland’s ice sheet.



Using data collected by researchers from the UK and Germany and NASA over the last few decades, scientists analyzed thousands of kilometers of airborne radar data. They were finally able to piece together the landscape buried deep below the ice sheet covering Greenland. The final product revealed a previously unknown canyon, two kilometers under Greenland’s ice sheet. The canyon is comparable to that of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA with a depth of 800 meters and at least 750 kilometers long.

According to Professor David Vaughan, ice2sea coordinator based at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, "A discovery of this nature shows that the Earth has not yet given up all its secrets. A 750km canyon preserved under the ice for millions of years is a breathtaking find in itself, but this research is also important in furthering our understanding of Greenland’s past. This area’s ice sheet contributes to sea level rise and this work can help us put current changes in context."

The radar data consisted of radio waves, which have the capability to travel through ice until they hit the bedrock. The continual bouncing of radio waves off of bedrock allowed researchers to map a continuous bedrock canyon that extends from almost the center of Greenland to the northernmost extremity in a deep fjord connecting to the Arctic Ocean.

Michael Studinger, Operation IceBridge Project Scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center said: "Two things helped lead to this discovery. It was the enormous amount of data collected by IceBridge and the work of combining it with other datasets into a Greenland-wide compilation of all existing data that makes this feature appear in front of our eyes. It is quite remarkable that a 750km-long channel the size of parts of the Grand Canyon is discovered in the 21st century below the Greenland Ice Sheet. It shows how little we still know about the bedrock below large continental ice sheets."

Researchers believe that this mega-canyon plays a vital role in transporting sub-glacial meltwater from the interior to the edge of the ice sheet and into the ocean. Evidence suggests the canyon was part of a major fluvial system and provided a pathway for water from the interior to the coast.

The research was funded by ice2sea and the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). It was published today in Science.

Read more from Bristol University

Greenland mountains imageGreenland mountains imageGreenland mountains image via Shutterstock.

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