Mighty Deep: Researchers Find Deepest Point on Land While Exploring Antarctica

The massive canyon has a total depth of 3.5km (11,500ft) below sea level. Researchers have revealed that only in the ocean are valleys deeper.

The deepest point on land has recently been identified by a group of researchers in eastern Antarctica. Beneath the so-called Denman Glacier, researchers have discovered a massive–ice-filled canyon– with a total depth of 3.5 kilometers below the surface.

The discovery was made after experts worked on a new map of Antarctica dubbed BedMachine. The new map revealed a plethora of previously unknown details about the frozen continent, as well as never-before-seen geological features that are helping experts better understand Antarctica.

The researchers say that the discoveries made thanks to BedMachine will help in the understanding of how the South Pole will change and develop in the future.

Scientists say that this is the most accurate portrait so far of what lies beneath the Antarctic ice sheet.

The map, presented by professor Mathieu Morlighem of the Department of Earth Systems Science at the University of California Irvine, fills all the gaps in the aerial studios of Antarctica.

For decades have scientist studied the frozen continent with different tools. None of them have until now, offered the precision and accuracy as BedMachine.

Previously, experts used radar to peer through the thick layers of Antarctic ice trying to understand the topography beneath, but vast areas have been left unexplored with little or no data.

That’s where Professor Morlighme’s solution changed the game. Using physics–mass conservation–the researcher managed to fill in the gaps.

As revealed by researchers, if we know how much ice enters a narrow valley, and if we are able to measure how fast it is moving, the volume of said ice can be calculated, offering insight into the depth of the valley floor.

That’s precisely what experts did after studying the 20km-wide Denman Glacier, which helped reveal the deepest canyon on land.

“The trenches in the oceans are deeper, but this is the deepest canyon on land. There have been many attempts to sound the bed of Denman, but every time they flew over the canyon – they couldn’t see it in the radar data, reveled Dr. Morlighem to the BBC.

A satellite image of Byrd Glacier; a giant ice stream that cuts through the Transantarctic Mountains. Image Credit: NASA/USGS/LANDSAT.
A satellite image of Byrd Glacier; a giant ice stream that cuts through the Transantarctic Mountains. Image Credit: NASA/USGS/LANDSAT.

“The trough is so entrenched that you get side-echoes from the walls of the valley and they make it impossible to detect the reflection from the actual bed of the glacier,” he added.

The massive canyon beneath the Denman Glacier is terrifyingly large. The deepest ocean point discovered so far is believed to be the Mariana Trench located in the western Pacific, and it has been measured to around 11 kilometers beneath the surface.

BedMachine has provided experts with unprecedented data, even though this may not seem so at first glance. However, upon closer inspection of BedMachine Antarctica, fascinating details emerge.

The data gathered by Morlinghem and colleagues–compiled in project BedMachine Antarctica, was presented at the  American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting. It is also published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

It has been revealed that the new Antarctic bed topography map was created using ice thickness data from 19 different scientific institutes dating back to 1967.

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