‘Death’ by Ancient Ice Sheets Carved Hidden Valleys Beneath Sea Floor

A 3D map of one of the hidden valleys, also known as tunnel valleys, under the sea floor in the North Sea. It was created by a meltwater channel running under an ancient ice sheet. (Image: James Kirkham)

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Hidden valleys buried beneath the ocean floor in the North Sea were carved out rapidly during the “deaths” of an ancient ice sheet towards the end of the last ice age around 20,000 years ago, according to a new study. Surprising underground structures could provide clues to how modern ice sheets will react to rapid warming caused by climate changesay the researchers.

The buried structures, known as tunnel valleys, are vast underground ravines carved into the ancient sea floor by meltwater draining into channels beneath the ice sheets. The sheer weight of the rapidly melting ice sheets forced the flowing water to cut deep canyons on the sea floor. These channels have since been covered by hundreds of meters of sediment accumulation. Tunnel valleys can be up to 93 miles (150 kilometers) long, 3.7 miles (6 kilometers) wide, and 1,640 feet (500 meters) deep; researchers statement (opens in new tab).

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