Tech

August 31, 2013

NASA data reveals mega-canyon under Greenland ice sheet

Data from a NASA airborne science mission reveals evidence of a large and previously unknown canyon hidden under a mile of Greenland ice.

The canyon has the characteristics of a winding river channel and is at least 460 miles long, making it longer than the Grand Canyon. In some places, it is as deep as 2,600 feet, on scale with segments of the Grand Canyon. This immense feature is thought to predate the ice sheet that has covered Greenland for the last few million years.

“One might assume that the landscape of the Earth has been fully explored and mapped,” said Jonathan Bamber, professor of physical geography at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, and lead author of the study. “Our research shows there’s still a lot left to discover.”

Bamber’s team published its findings Thursday in the journal Science.

The scientists used thousands of miles of airborne radar data, collected by NASA and researchers from the United Kingdom and Germany over several decades, to piece together the landscape lying beneath the Greenland ice sheet.

A large portion of this data was collected from 2009 through 2012 by NASA’s Operation IceBridge, an airborne science campaign that studies polar ice. One of IceBridge’s scientific instruments, the Multichannel Coherent Radar Depth Sounder, can see through vast layers of ice to measure its thickness and the shape of bedrock below.

In their analysis of the radar data, the team discovered a continuous bedrock canyon that extends from almost the center of the island and ends beneath the Petermann Glacier fjord in northern Greenland.

At certain frequencies, radio waves can travel through the ice and bounce off the bedrock underneath. The amount of times the radio waves took to bounce back helped researchers determine the depth of the canyon. The longer it took, the deeper the bedrock feature.

“Two things helped lead to this discovery,” said Michael Studinger, IceBridge project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “It was the enormous amount of data collected by IceBridge and the work of combining it with other datasets into a Greenland-wide compilation of all existing data that makes this feature appear in front of our eyes.”

The researchers believe the canyon plays an important role in transporting sub-glacial meltwater from the interior of Greenland to the edge of the ice sheet into the ocean. Evidence suggests that before the presence of the ice sheet, as much as 4 million years ago, water flowed in the canyon from the interior to the coast and was a major river system.

“It is quite remarkable that a channel the size of the Grand Canyon is discovered in the 21st century below the Greenland ice sheet,” said Studinger. “It shows how little we still know about the bedrock below large continental ice sheets.”

The IceBridge campaign will return to Greenland in March 2014 to continue collecting data on land and sea ice in the Arctic using a suite of instruments that includes ice-penetrating radar.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

NASA picks top Earth data challenge ideas, opens call for climate apps

NASA has selected four ideas from the public for innovative uses of climate projections and Earth-observing satellite data. The agency also has announced a follow-on challenge with awards of $50,000 to build climate applications based on OpenNEX data on the Amazon cloud computing platform. Both challenges use the Open NASA Earth Exchange, or OpenNEX, a...
 
 
nasa-flying-lab

NASA’s flying laboratories study our world

Throughout the remainder of 2014, NASA is flying a series of airborne research campaigns from the North Pole to the South Pole and many points in between ñ to take a closer look at U.S. air quality, hurricanes in the Atlantic ...
 
 

NASA selects proposals to increase STEM education at community, technical colleges

NASA’s Office of Education will award more than $17.3 million through the National Space Grant and Fellowship Program to increase student and faculty engagement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics at community colleges and technical schools across the United States. Each award has a two-year performance period and a maximum value of $500,000. The 35...
 

 
Courtesy photograph

Space technology experiments tested in microgravity flight

Courtesy photograph University of Central Florida students and their principal investigator observe their experiment as it reacts to the microgravity environment on NASA’s C-9 reduced-gravity experiments aircraft. NASA...
 
 
NASA photograph by Tom Tschida

Seeing double: Experimental glider, rocket undergo fit checks

NASA photograph by Tom Tschida NASA intern Erik Rossi De La Fuente (upper left) admires the one-third scale, twin-fuselage sailplane concept demonstrator that will carry and launch the Whittinghill Aerospace Mini Sprite rocket....
 
 
Image courtesy of NASA/JPL/Corby Waste

NASA selects U.S. small business technology transfer projects for further development

Image courtesy of NASA/JPL/Corby Waste An artist’s rendition of the 2007 Phoenix Mars probe during landing depicts dust particles stirred up from thrusters. CFD Research Corporation, in conjunction with the University of ...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>