Category Archives: Ocean

The Discovery of Greenland’s Massive Canyon

NASA scientists have recently discovered a canyon underneath Greenland’s ice sheet by using radar data. The canyon is 400 miles long and half a mile deep (for comparison, the Grand Canyon is 277 miles long and a little over a mile deep). This canyon was believed to have been formed before the glacier over Greenland formed.

Radar uses electromagnetic waves to penetrate through the ice. In much the same way that shining a flashlight through a window to a wall will case light to reflect off of the wall back to the person holding the flashlight outside, the longer radio waves used with radar reflect off of the earth’s surface.

It is definitely interesting to learn about this canyon, but the importance of the discovery is beyond being a neat fact. Water flowing beneath the glaciers actually contributes to a complex relationship with glacial movement and melting, and the transport of glacial melt water from inland portions of the glacier to the ocean is pertinent to this topic.

Seeing a talk on the Deepsea Challenge

Big conferences can be incredibly overwhelming, but there is also this sense of excitement and mystery. I usually spend a lot of time going to talks within my own field, but sometimes it’s fun to walk into a random room.

While walking around the gigantic conference centers, I came across the press area. I peeked my head into a small room and saw on the screen “Up Next: Deepsea Challenge Panel.” I was incredibly disappointed that I had missed much of the earlier talk by the panel, which included several well-known scientists and James Cameron, on the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER that was piloted by James Cameron to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. I decided to sit down and see what happened. To my delight, it was a press conference with the panel. I leaned forward in my chair, hidden in the back corner of the room, and listened intently.

For those of you who do not know about the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER, James Cameron became the first person to go to the ocean’s deepest trench alone. Also involved in the science team and panel were three well know scientists, Dr. Patty Fryer, Dr. Doug Bartlett and Dr. Kevin Hand. You can read about the entire science and engineering team here.

I watched as the group of four answered questions about the mission, all the while making science seem adventurous and exciting. There was talk of discovering a potentially new species of an amphipod crustacean in addition to an organism that contained a compound which has promise of treating Alzheimer’s. The importance of this mission in understanding a potential area for the beginning of life and the discovery of life on other places such as Europa was also discussed.

I left the meeting with a new sense of anticipation for science to come. James Cameron mentioned that touching the bottom of the trench and saying you have explored the trenches is like dropping from a plane into a corn field in Nebraska and saying you have seen the United States. It’s clear there is still much left on our own planet which has yet to be explored.

** This past week I have been spending my time at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco. This conference includes between 15,000-20,000 people every year. The conference focuses on everything ranging from space and planetary science to climate change to education.