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Ferrigno Rift: 'Grand Canyon' rift speeding up ice melt in Antarctica


A bird rests on a glacier in Antarctica on November 9, 2007.



A rift in the Antarctic rock as deep as the Grand Canyon is increasing ice melt and contributing to rising sea levels.

Dubbed the Ferrigno Rift for the glacier that has been filling it, the gash in the surface of the Earth has walls nearly a mile deep at its most profound point, according to OurAmazingPlanet. It is roughly 6 miles across and at least 62 miles long, possibly much longer if it extends into the sea.

"It was literally one of the first days that we were driving across the ice stream, doing what we thought was a pretty standard survey, that I saw the bed of the ice just dropping away," discoverer Rob Bingham, a glaciologist at Scotland's University of Aberdeen, told OurAmazingPlanet.

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Other ice-covered valleys have been found, but the geology of this particular rift, Bingham told NBC News, shows that "the areas that are most vulnerable (to ice loss) coincide with areas of ancient rifting." Bingham also said the geological process, over millions of years, "preconfigures the topography to a shape that encourages ice loss."

Ice from the Ferrigno Rift has also carved a channel over millions of years that now appears to be allowing warmer water to "flow back towards the Antarctic ice margin" and melt it, Bingham said to NBC.

The rift is located beneath the Ferrigno Ice Stream on a stretch of coast so remote it has only been visited once before, reported BBC News. It lies close to the Pine Island Glacier where NASA scientists found a huge crack last year, but it not thought to be influencing the "Pig," as it is known.