A new study shows that the deepest place on earth is located under the Denman Glacier in East Antarctica.
Glaciologists at the University of California, Irvine, mapped the area only to discover that the canal below the glacier was much deeper than they expected.
The canal is located about 3500 meters below sea level, but there is no ocean water there. Instead, it is filled with ice flowing from inside the ice sheet to the coast.
The canal measures approximately 100 km long and 20 km wide, according to the study. This new discovery was presented at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in San Francisco.
Dr. Mathieu Morlighem, an associate professor in the Department of Earth System Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, is leading this project.
«The biggest challenge of the project is that Antarctica is HUGE!» he said excitedly.
«It’s bigger than the United States and Mexico combined.»
Morlighem and his team used a new technology called Bed Machine to make this discovery. They developed a next-generation ice cap model, but it did not behave as expected.
«After months of research, we realized it wasn’t because we were missing important processes. It was because the topography of the bed under the ice lacked many important features such as canals, ridges, valleys, etc.,» he said.
And because of the size of the area they were trying to map, the process was too slow.
The team mixed radar measurements with high-precision satellite grade surface movement data and snow accumulation from regional climate models, to obtain a good estimate of the shape of the bed in which it had not been measured.
«We applied this mapping technique to the entire ice sheet, and we discovered this very deep valley hidden beneath the ice sheet,» Morlighem said.
He said that one of the challenges they faced during the project was to gather all the data available, as there were many radar surveys, but carried out by different institutions in different countries.
Besides, they had some surprises along the way.
«The main ones are these ridges across the Transantarctic Mountains, the Denman Glacier, but also some other glaciers that feed the Ronne ice shelf that seem to be more vulnerable than we thought,» Morlighem said.
Morlighem says climate change could affect this region. «Now we have to monitor this glacier carefully.
If your grounding line, where the ice begins to float, begins to retreat into this deep canyon, it could be removed quickly due to a mechanism called Sea Ice Sheet Instability,» he said.
«Glaciers that flow on inland beds are unstable, so the glacier will likely have to retreat completely until the bed rises again, causing a significant rise in sea level.
It could be one of the most vulnerable sectors of East Antarctica, which contains much more ice than West Antarctica»