Massive Valley Beneath Antarctica Aids Glacial Melting, Researchers Say

A team of British researchers claim they have discovered a large rift valley beneath an Antarctic ice sheet that could be bigger than the Grand Canyon.

The findings were published this week in the journal Nature and state that the valley is located in West Antarctica.

"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," Robert Bingham, lead researcher and glaciologist at the University of Aberdeen, said in a press release.

The researchers used a new method which utilizes ice-penetrating radar over an ice sheet that was more than 1,500 sq. miles in size.

But when scientists looked at the data they discovered that the part of Antarctica that is losing the most ice is located over the deep sea valley.

Fausto Ferraccioli, a geophysicist from the British Antarctic Survey, explained that the valley allows warmer ocean water to reach glacial ice, which increases the rate of melting seen on the continent.

"What this study shows is that this ancient rift basin, and the others discovered under the ice that connect to the warming ocean, can influence contemporary ice flow and may exacerbate ice losses by steering coastal changes further inland," Ferraccioli said.

With this new understanding of glacial ice melting, scientist are now able to better predict changes not only in the continent, but also the effect those changes have on oceans and the potential impact that may have on the environment.

"Thinning ice in West Antarctica is currently contributing nearly 10 percent of global sea level rise. It's important to understand this hot spot of change so we can make more accurate predictions for future sea level rise," David Vaughan, of the British Antarctic Survey, told CNN.