Humongous hidden Antarctic rift could be speeding ice melt, say scientists (+video)
A huge newly discovered rift, buried a mile beneath the ice in Antarctica, could be contributing to ice loss, according to researchers.
Researchers have been monitoring large ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica for decades to see how and whether they affect climate change.
Thinning ice in West Antarctica accounts for nearly 10 percent of global sea level rise as rising global average temperatures cause glaciers and ice caps to melt, threatening coastlines from Vietnam to Florida and forcing low-lying cities to build costly flood defences.
Scientists at the University of Aberdeen and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have discovered a sub-glacial valley under the Ferrigno Ice Stream, a region which has only been visited once before in 1961.
The rift valley, created millions of years ago and subsequently covered by ice, is connected to the warming ocean help show how climate change is affecting the ice sheet, they said in a paper published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.
"This spectacular valley aligns perfectly with the recordings of ice-surface lowering and ice loss that we have witnessed with satellite observations over this area for the last 20 years," said Robert Bingham, a glaciologist at Aberdeen University's School of Geosciences and lead author of the study.
"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 Grand Canyon."