In our modern age of high-definition satellite imagery, it may seem that the Earth has no more big secrets left to reveal, but the reality is that some surprises may be hiding in plain sight.
Well, maybe not hiding as much as buried under thick ice.
Earlier this year, geologists using radio-echo sounding to strip away a portion of the Antarctic Ice Sheet discovered what they believe to be the world's largest canyon system, dwarfing the Grand Canyon at more than 685 miles long and more than .06 miles deep. They also hinted at the potential presence of a massive sub-glacial lake covering an estimated 480 square miles.
In a presentation during a recent European Geosciences Union meeting in Vienna, Austria, researchers unveiled a few more details about this entombed body of water. According to team member Martin Siegert of Imperial College London, the lake is ribbon-shaped and about 62 miles long by 6.2 miles wide. The massive 600-mile canyons discovered earlier appear to extend from the lake — and as you can see in the map above, they are like long fingers stretching toward the eastern Antarctic coast.
Should the lake's presence and size pan out, it would rank as the second-largest body of water on the continent after Lake Vostok. Scientists estimate that Lake Vostok's liquid surface has been trapped under 13,000 feet of ice for tens of millions of years, potentially harboring unique lifeforms found nowhere else on Earth. Could this new lake offer something similar?
"It's the last un-researched part of Antarctica, so it's very exciting news, but it's still tentative pending full confirmation," Bryn Hubbard of the University of Aberystwyth told New Scientist.
The researchers' next step is to confirm their findings with members of a U.S. and China team who recently flew over the region and gathered ice-penetrating radar data.
"It's astonishing to think that such large features could have avoided detection for so long," lead researcher Dr Stewart Jamieson from the Department of Geography at Durham University said in a statement. "This is a region of the Earth that is bigger than the U.K., and yet we still know little about what lies beneath the ice."