Steepest cliff discovered

Wednesday 10 December 1997 00:02 GMT

Scientists mapping an uncharted region of ocean floor between Africa and Antarctica have discovered the steepest underwater cliff ever recorded, it was disclosed yesterday.

The depth of the seabed drops from 500ft to 20,000ft in just 10 miles some 1,000 miles south of the Cape of Good Hope. "It's the steepest change in elevation along the mid-ocean ridge that's been mapped any place on the globe," John Madsen, a geologist from the University of Delaware, Newark, told the American Geophysical Union 1997 meeting in San Francisco. He is part of a multinational team drawing a portrait of the Southwest Indian Ridge, the boundary between the moving plates in the Earth's crust which cover Africa and Antarctica.

The team, aboard the research vessel Knorr, is also looking for signs of volcanic fissures which some believe hold the key to the origins of life.

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