It's completely fascinating that, in a time when our laptops can give us a close-up satellite view of nearly anywhere on earth, scientists could just be discovering a geologic feature the size of the Grand Canyon. That's just what they found one in Antarctica, hidden under ice that looked totally smooth, according to a report published Wednesday in Nature. Cool as that discovery may be, it's not such good news since the "sub-glacial basin" helps ice slide into the sea faster.
The newly discovered Ferrigno rift, found using ice-penetrating radar, is amazing simply for its sheer size: It's a mile deep, and "if you stripped away all of the ice here today, you'd see a feature every bit as dramatic as the huge rift valleys you see in Africa and in size as significant as the [US] Grand Canyon," Robert Bingham, an Aberdeen University glaciologist, told The BBC. The basin sits under a stream of ice called the Ferrigno Ice Stream, and connects to a seabed trough called Belgica, BBC's Richard Black explains. "The scientists suggest that during Ice Ages, when sea levels were much lower than at present, the rift would have channelled a major ice stream through the trough. Now, they suggest, the roles are reversed, with the walls of the Belgica trough channelling relatively warm sea water back to the ice edge." That warm water lubricates the underside of the ice and makes it slide into the sea faster. That accelerated ice loss, captured by satellites, is what first got scientists curious to about the topography of the land on the stretch of Antarctic coast west of the Wirth Peninsula, according to Our Amazing Planet's writes Andrea Mustain. Sure, the Ferrigno rift is an amazing discovery, but since ice loss is not a good thing, we kind of wish it wasn't there at all.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.