Scientists Explore World's Largest Undersea Canyon

First Posted: Dec 25, 2013 09:47 AM EST

Scientists have learned a bit more about the world's largest undersea canyon. A team has recently returned from a five-week research expedition, mapping and sampling the canyon off northwest Morocco.

Using the German research vessel, Maria S Merian, the researchers explored the depths of the Agadir Canyon. This undersea canyon is over 1,000 meters deep and 450 kilometers long. In fact, it's potentially the world's largest undersea canyon.

"Agadir Canyon is remarkably similar in size to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and yet until now it has barely been explored," said Russell Wynn, one of the researchers, in a news release. "We discovered that this huge valley is the source for the world's largest submarine sediment flow 60,000 years ago. Up to 160 cubic kilometers of sediment was transported to the deep ocean in a single catastrophic event."

During their expedition, the researchers collected seafloor images and sediment cores. This provided evidence for powerful sediment flows that originated from the canyon head, transporting gravel and sand derived from the onshore Atlas Mountains to deep offshore basins over three miles below the sea surface. These flows deposited sediment over an area of deep seafloor exceeding 350,000 square kilometers, roughly the size of Germany. In fact, this is the first time individual sediment flows of this scale have been tracked along their entire flow pathway.

That's now all the scientists found, either. They also discovered a new giant landslide south of Agadir Canyon that covers an area of seafloor in excess of 5,000 square kilometers. That's larger than the county of Hampshire. The researchers also made biological discoveries; they took samples of the first living deep-water covers to be recovered from the Atlantic Moroccan margin. They also found a huge aggregation of hundreds of Loggerhead turtles baskingat the surface.

"To be the first people to explore and map this extensive and spectacular area of seafloor is a rare privilege, especially on the doorstep of Europe," said Wynn in a news release. "It is hoped that our findings will inform further work on geological hazards and marine conservation in this region."

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