World's Deepest Point on Land Was Discovered beneath Antarctica's Ice Sheet

Located in East Antarctica, below the Denman Glacier, scientists used new methods to discover the depth of the land.

World's Deepest Point on Land Was Discovered beneath Antarctica's Ice Sheet
Denman Glacier Canyon in Antarctica Mathieu Morlighem/YouTube

Researchers have discovered the deepest point on Continental Earth, and it sits beneath Antarctica's ice sheet. Located below the Denman Glacier in East Antarctica, the ice-filled canyon reaches as far down as 3.5 km (11,500 ft) below sea level.

Only valleys in the ocean go deeper.

The canyon was showcased in a new map, revealing the shape of the bedrock in extremely accurate detail.

The team's findings were published in Nature Geoscience on December 12.


Why is this discovery important?

The team discovered that the canyon goes as far as 3.5 km (11,500 ft.) down below the Earth's surface.

Grasping what lies beneath these ice sheets is fundamental for our understanding of how the polar south may change in the future. 

These new findings show, for instance, previously unknown ridges that will get in the way of the retreat of melting glaciers in our ever-warming world. On the flip side, they also disclose a few smooth, sloping areas that may accelerate withdrawals. 

Dr. Mathieu Morlighem, a researcher at the University of California, Irvine, who's also worked on this project for six years, said "This is undoubtedly the most accurate portrait yet of what lies beneath Antarctica's ice sheet." 

How did the team make the discovery?

The technology used to map Antarctica so far has relied on radar instruments that look through the ice through airborne imaging. However, the data still remained relatively incomplete in many areas.

Dr. Morlighem and his team's new map, called BedMachine, has introduced physics — mass conservation — to fill in these holes.

"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," said Morlighem.

It has to be noted that trenches in the oceans, such as the Mariana Trench, are deeper. As a comparison to the Denman Glacier, the Mariana Trench goes as far as 11km (36,000 ft.) beneath the sea surface.

BedMachine will be used in climate models, which attempt to project how Antarctica may change with global warming. Naturally, the more specific and detailed the information, the better the predictions. 

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