Foundation Trough, Patuxent Trough and Offset Rift Basi, three canyonsn — slice through the mountain ranges that divide the two major regions of the frozen continent. Foundation is 217 miles (350 kilometers) long (about the distance from Los Angeles to Las Vegas) and 22 miles (35 km) wide.
Patuxent is a bit shorter and half Foundation’s width. Offset is half Foundation’s length but just as wide. Each of them provides a highway for ice to flow from the larger, stabler East Antarctic Ice Sheet into the smaller, less stable West Antarctic Ice Sheet.
The point here is each of them was completely unmapped and unseen under the ice until a recent survey mission, which was described online May 4 in a journal geophysical research letters.
That’s because the two major ice-mapping satellites orbiting Earth have big blind spots in the center of Antarctica. The inclination of their orbits prevents them from seeing into the ice of the southernmost continent.
Hence, an international team of researchers started flying planes with sensitive mapping instruments on board over the Antarctic gap in order to fill in the blind spot in Earth’s ice maps, between 2015 and 2017.