back to article Hidden Grand Canyon-sized ICE-HOLE hastens Antarctic melt

A geoboffin and glacioboffin team have discovered a Grand-Canyon-sized chasm hidden under the ice in West Antarctica that they believe is helping the ice to melt. The University of Aberdeen and British Antarctic Survey (BAS) scientists returned to the Ferrigno Ice Stream, a region of the frozen continent only visited once …


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  1. Steve Crook

    Who'd have thought it...

    I'm sure Steig et al would disagree :-)

    More seriously, it's an interesting explanation for increased melt and would appear to be yet another discovery that tells us just how much more we have to learn about the planet we inhabit. I'd hope that it would also make those who like to try to sell AGW on the basis of catastrophe just a little more cautious in their output, but I doubt it.

    I feel obliged to add a disclaimer. I'm not a 'denier', just rather sceptical when it comes to *some* of the attributions and claims that are made for the effects of anthropogenic CO2

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Who'd have thought it...

      "More seriously, it's an interesting explanation for increased melt and would appear to be yet another discovery that tells us just how much more we have to learn about the planet we inhabit. I'd hope that it would also make those who like to try to sell AGW on the basis of catastrophe just a little more cautious in their output, but I doubt it."

      Translation: 'This shows that the rest of the world has a long way to go to catch up with me, who already somehow knows everything about all the factors leading to changing climate, a fact which allows me to make judgements about the work of literally thousands of scientists working in the field from my cosy house in England. So long as the data continues to be interpretable in some way that can be fitted into what I knew 20 years ago then it is good work and to be commended. I'd hope that those who like to present me with information I don't like will be just a little more cautious in their output as a result of witnessing my continued and inexplicable omniscience, but I doubt it.'

  2. CaptainHook

    Why a snow mobile?

    Seriously, if there was ever a great place to test robotic vehicles and get some science done at the same time.

    It's remote enough that there must be saving to be had from a logistics point of view of keeping a team of people alive in that situation, but close enough that telematics wouldn't be a problem for remote control and mechanical rescue teams could be sent out (in good weather) for any repairs which might need to be made.

    1. BoldMan

      You've obviously never tried to travel across and ice sheet on a snowmobile - its not smooth or even, in fact its a topological nightmare that needs a human who can see, understand and navigate a safe route through a very chaotic landscape.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Fibbles

        You've obviously never tried to remotely manoeuvre a rover across Mars from 250 million km away - its not smooth or even, in fact its a topological nightmare that needs a well trained operator who can see, understand and navigate a safe route through a very chaotic landscape.

        1. Don Jefe

          @ Fibbles

          Yeah but the technology they're using on Mars allows them to cross distances as vast as 24 miles in just for or five years. If they did that here the experiment would take centuries to complete.

          1. Fibbles

            Re: @ Fibbles

            They've only covered 24 miles because A) the rovers up till this point used weak ass solar power and B) can't be controlled in real time because of the distance.

            Neither are problems you'll encounter in the Antarctic.

            1. Don Jefe

              Re: @ Fibbles

              Just to give you more fodder:

              If the unmanned machines you propose at the Antarctic use some kind of power source other than solar what would it be? I have yet to see a powered device that will run on snow and ice.

              1. Fibbles

                Re: @ Fibbles

                How about nuclear? The same as the new Mars rover. It's not banned by the Antarctic Treaty so long as you remove the nuclear material from the continent once the mission is over.

  3. cirby

    Of course...

    They sort of forget to mention that while the western Antarctic ice sheet is losing ice, the other 70%+ of the Antarctic is either staying the same or increasing - the net result is that the Antarctic is gaining ice mass.

    I wonder why that wasn't mentioned?

    1. Drunken

      Re: Of course...

      "...the net result is that the Antarctic is gaining ice mass.

      I wonder why that wasn't mentioned?"

      It isn't true?

      Antarctica as a whole is losing ice.

      Though Antarctica is gaining sea ice extent.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. asdf Silver badge

        Re: Of course...

        >I wonder why that wasn't mentioned?"

        >It isn't true?

        When has little things like facts ever slowed down the greed crowd? The vast majority of them worship a sky fairy and a zombie they call Jesus who they believe wants them to be rich.

        1. NomNomNom

          Re: Of course...

          don't be mean, jesus isn't like other zombies, he just wants your soul not your brain

        2. P. Lee

          Re: Of course...

          Yeah! 'Cos Jesus is well known for having said, "Screw the poor!"

          Worship is about what is worthy of being served. The greedy serve themselves. How does that relate in any way to serving a god who said that every 50 years all loans are to be wiped out and land returned to its original owners?

          If I am the pinnacle of life in the known universe and the is no judgement of what I do, I may as well make my own brief and ultimately pointless existence as fun as possible. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

    2. Jon B

      Re: Of course...

      er, because the scientific paper was all about a specific valley feature in the West Antarctic ice sheet?

  4. Nigel 11


    There's a way to slow this process, if anyone dare try. Inject a gelling agent into the water at the bottom of these valleys, so it can't circulate to the ocean. It's amazing how small a quantity of the right material can turn water from a runny liquid into a viscous or near-solid gel. Once immobilized, it might even freeze solid.

    1. Kevin Johnston

      Re: Geo-engineering

      The only problem with that is we do not yet understand whether this is a new event or normal. Making changes before you understand the process is what gets you into serious issues, it's like adding recursive positive feedback loops.

      I may be wrong (meh, not my speciality so probably am wrong) but I don't believe there is anything like enough data either by area or chronology to make a decision with better odds of being right than picking lottery numbers.

      1. Don Jefe

        @ Kevin Re: Geo-engineering

        You are correct. Science is more about discovery than 'solutions', but you can't forget about politicians. Every time some 'new thing' is observed the pols have to 'do something about it'. I'm still flummoxed and disheartened that just looking at something isn't enough for elected officials or the news outlets. The fact someone wants to put 'gel' in the ocean is mind-boggling.

    2. Scott Broukell

      Re: Geo-engineering

      That would be Arctic Hare Gel would it ?

    3. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: Geo-engineering

      I'm not sure you could find a gelling agent which would produce a gel with enough shear strength to withstand the movement of trillion tonnes of ice.

      1. Nigel 11

        Re: Geo-engineering

        No reason for a gel to resist ice shear (which wouuld be quite impossible). As I understood it, liquid water circulation under the glacier is bringing in warm seawater which is melting the ice from below. Gel that water and the circulation would stop, which would slow down the melting. It might even result in the gelled water becoming cold enough to freeze.

        As for the dangers of meddling with things that aren't well-understood and which consist of lots of interlocked feedback loops, I agree. Except, we've already done that on a massive scale with atmospheric CO2. If sea level is rising seriously fast because of the melting of this area of ice, slowing or stopping the melt might be the least bad option. Especially so, if there's evidence that it was frozen all the way down in recent geological time.

        1. dssf

          Re: Geo-engineering

          Fortunately, we don't have enough mad Admirals and compliant Captains ordered by some unnamed authority to fire the world's stockpile of nuke torpedoes in certain places to warm the waters or just create fissures, to break off chunks here and there. Or worse, not enough mad 4-star Generals are ordering bunker/ice-busters to cleave off areas by ice slides that might expose cooler areas to ambient air temperatures every few months to accelerate more calving.... (Scary? Off the wall?)

          But, seriously, (I admit i have not read the article), what is the temperature differential being measured? Is it 1 or 2 degrees (any scale) or 2-15 degrees, or what? I imagine that even if it is only a 2-degree temp difference, there must be some geothermal vent (or whatever technical name it is) supplying the constant warm water.

          Do they know or have they said whether these streams are just streams or are there some indications of heated jets, too? It would be interesting to find out that streams and jets are shaping the ice bottoms as much as the bottoms are scouring the floor topography.

          1. Thomas 4

            Please refrain from using radar in Antarctica

            It annoys the shoggoths that live in the valley. =(

    4. Steve Crook

      Re: Geo-engineering

      Have you ever read 'The Cats Cradle (Or the Story of Ice 9)' by Kurt Vonnegut?

      1. Nigel 11
        Thumb Down

        Cat's cradle

        Yes, I read it. The physics was nonsense. As a parable, I've read much better SF. I found the fall of Namqem particularly worrisome (along with most of the other back-story in Vinge's "A Deepness in the Sky").

        1. Steve Crook

          Re: Cat's cradle

          Deepness In The Sky. Yes, great story. Being fair to Vonnegut (and me), the the science was a small part of the fiction, and you'd have to criticise a lot of dystopian SF on the same grounds...

          JG Ballard novels: Wind From Nowhere, Crystal World, The Drought and Drowned World spring immediately to mind... In fact, the premise behind The Drought is not that dissimilar to Ice9

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Geo-engineering

      Im just curious about something, what right do we have to try and keep the climate the same?

      its one thing changing it as a consequence of our activities, but the mere idea of trying to make it something else or keep it the same gives me a very uneasy feeling.

      The world since the beginning of time has always strived to achieve a balance, over 10,000s of years that balancing act gives us warm and cold periods, dry and wet periods, but ultimately it balances, otherwise we'd be as cold as Mars or as hot as Venus, our world is thankfully quite able to correct its self to achieve that balance, regardless of the consequences to its inhabitants

      so again, how would we go about making the decision to change this, to keep it the same or even improve the situation knowing for well that the world will try and change it back and potentially to a different climate that wouldn't be in our interest.

      Hawkings is right, we need off the rock if we want to survive as a race, we cant force the world to do things it doesn't necessarily want to do all we can do is where possible limit the extent we affect the world, ie not needlessly fuck it up.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There is a lot going on underground

    I recollect reading that there are connected lakes and rivers deep under the Antarctic ice sheet. So how do these interact with these coastal troughs?

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Wrong end, guys

    The Hollow-Earthers are at the North pole this year -

    I guess they will totally miss it when the ice plug melts and all the flying saucers emerge in Antartctica.

    1. Crisp Silver badge

      Re: Wrong end, guys

      That has got to be a parody or something!

  7. Purlieu


    Surely the rift valleys etc that have been there for millions of years didn't suddely decide a few years ago to start "doing their bit to speed up the melting of the ice". What a load of codswallop.

    1. Steve Crook

      Re: Fail

      I'm not clear what you're saying? That the valleys/caverns aren't there? That the water doesn't flow through them? Or that they're not actually causing much melting?

      They've probably been there since the last ice age or before. What's interesting is how they came to be formed in the first place. I'm assuming this is an ongoing process, and could have gradually been building for several millennia, for instance I don't suppose that they *started* at the size they are, but have been growing for a loooong time, so we may just be seeing more obvious effects as the process continues.

      It could well be a cause for concern if the melt isn't replaced elsewhere, and is combined with whatever melt we *also* get from raised polar temperatures.

      So it's not codswallop.

      1. Purlieu

        Re: Fail

        What I said was that the article says that the valleys have been in existence for millions of years, and so has the water-flow paths etc.

        So why did this phenomenon suddelny start contributing to "global warming" yesterday morning ?

        That's the codswallop bit.

  8. Gobhicks

    Obligatory HP Lovecraft reference re any Antarctic wierdness...

    ... message ends

  9. frank ly

    West Antarctica?

    How was it decided which part of Antarctica would be called 'west'? I'd have thought that every part of the antarctic coast would be 'North Antarctica'.

    1. Anonymous Cowerd

      Re: West Antarctica?

      It's the mass of land between 0 and 180 longitude.

  10. StuartMcL

    re West Antarctica

    I would assume that it was called that because it lies in the western hemisphere

  11. Martin Lyne

    Ferrigno glacier, shown in green..

  12. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    I'm not too sure how...

    ... activists will use this as an argument to stop us generating energy and increase our taxes.

    But I'm sure they'll find some way....

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The article is way under the normal standard of el-reg

    Chaps, Rift valley in geology is a _TERM_ and a well defined one - where two plates spread with the African great rift valley being one of the more spectacular examples.

    A glacier valley != rift valley.

    1. Bluewhelk
      Thumb Up

      Re: The article is way under the normal standard of el-reg

      According to the BBC website ( it IS a rift valley and goes on to say the east and west halves are moving apart causing said valley. Just happens to be full of ice, so thumbs up to El. Reg. here.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The article is way under the normal standard of el-reg

      yeah, no explanation of how many areas the size of wales it covers, where the best place would be to launch a toy plane, and no attempt to shoehorn in a reference to Paris Hilton. What's happening up there, guys?

  14. S2S

    No rise

    There is no sea level rise !! wake up!

    Educate your self, stop being fooled by none scientific bullshit,

    if you skew the figures you can 'show a trend' of sea level

    rise, it doesn't mean there is actually any rise.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No rise

      Debunked here -

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: No rise

        "www.skeptical(sic)" - oh dear.

        If I were intent on destroying my credibility that's the website I'd quote. I see it's still trotting out the "97% of climate experts agree humans are causing global warming" meme and linking to the Doran 2009 paper.

        Believe it if you want, or do your own fact checking, like most sensible engineers do.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: No rise

          "Believe it if you want, or do your own fact checking, like most sensible engineers do."

          Please elaborate - was it cold when you went on your Antarctic fact-checking trip?

          1. Yamal Dodgy Data

            Doin yer own fact checking .. and checking out the sKeptitard from FourX land

            Here's the reality....

            In 1842 the "Isle of the Dead" in SE Tasmania was selected for the site of a "Mean Sea Level" reference mark by Capt. James Clark Ross.

            Today this mark can clearly be seen 35 cm ABOVE the current mean sea level.

            But who is .. skeptical(sic) ?

            since some of the posters here are stupid enough to use it as reference to "argue from authority"

            John Cook is skeptical(sic) science (pity he can't spell it correctly as literate most Australian's can) set it up.

            He is the "Climate Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute"

            (a grant seeking wonk from a pro-Labor Party pressure group).

            He went to James Cook Uni, a former third rate CAE (polytechnic) in the intellectually competitive north queensland town of Townsville,

            no indication at all of what he studied ?? sociology or media studies is my guess

            1. Richard 12 Silver badge

              Re: Doin yer own fact checking .. and checking out the sKeptitard from FourX land

              And why do you think that's a good place to measure from? Hint - nowhere is.

              The Earth's crust is not static. Is that place being uplifted, in which case it's less than 35cm, or is it descending in which case it's more?

              Any single place to measure mean sea level is fundamentally wrong, it must be measured at many places around the world to account for local crustal variations.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    1500 miles by snowmobile, just to set up a duff joke...

    Ice2sea you, 2 sea you - Ice!

  16. Alan Brown Silver badge

    West antarctic ice only minor worry.

    Most of the west antarctic ice sheet is below sea level, so if it melts it'll have a minor effect on sea level rise - if it melts only the ice currently above sea level would contribute to the rise and melting of the ice below sea level would cause a slight _decrease_ in overall sea level due to ice being less dense than water.

    Added to that, a lot of west antarctica's ice is floating on water anyway, so melting of that won't have any effect on sea levels at all (same as the water level in a glass only changes until ice in it stops touching the bottom)

    (minor = 1-2 metres or so. It's all relative)

    You can see the sub-sealevel stuff in the video with all the vast areas of green and blue on the west antarctic side - and the fact that the ice is significantly below sea level at the coast explains why warm currents can erode it so easily.

    East antarctica melt is a completely different matter. Virtually the entire icemass is on rock which is above sea level. If that all melted there would be massive changes in sea level - but that ice is hemmed in by mountain ranges, so it can't flow to the sea easily and is showing no real signs of large scale melt in any case.

    Short term, Greenland ice is more of a worry, especially given that a good freshwater pulse from melt there would probably cripple the gulf stream for a few years, leading to significantly colder tempratures in europe.

    One issue which isn't brought up much is that rifting goes hand in hand with vulcanism and the effects of volcanoes erupting through an icecap have already been seen recently. Imagine that on a much larger scale. :)

  17. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Well done on the science

    And with the hope the relevant models for the ice contents on the continent are updated accordingly.

    I hope this will be extended to see if there are any *other* Grand Canyon sized valley's lurking around the continent.

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