The Zhemchug Canyon is one of the largest canyons in the world, and there are many special features that set it apart from any other canyon you may have read about. This canyon is not only entirely submerged under the Pacific Ocean, but its size is so great that it can only actually be seen in its entirely if you fly high enough to see beyond the Earth’s curvature.
The sheer size of the Zhemchug Canyon is impressive to say the least – it can clearly be seen from outer space. Hidden by the Pacific Ocean, it is actually the underwater canyon with the largest drainage area (an impressive 11,350 square kilometers) and volume (5,800 cubic kilometers) in the entire world. Situated in the Bering sea, it was named after a famous Russian vessel – the Russian Imperial Army’s Zhemchug cruiser – and features two large branches, each grater in size than most continental margin canyons.
The large and somewhat protected area of the canyon, as well as its almost non-existing slope, makes the Zhemchug an ideal place for a wide variety of marine life habitats to thrive. Even the rarest of marine creatures are able to survive quite well here, including the endangered short-tailed albatross that comes here to feed at the surface of the water. Various marine mammals are also found in the canyon, such as a wide variety of whales and the remarkable Northern Sea seal. Many habitat forming invertebrates and corals are also able to make this canyon their stable home. These include bubblegum and bamboo corals, as well as soft corals and hexactinellid sponges.
The formation of the largest and deepest submerged canyon in the world is still somewhat of a mystery for scientists today, although there are plenty of viable theories that are readily available, some of them sounding quite likely. One of these theories talks about how giant fissures in the continental shelves, such as those found in the Zhemchug Canyon, were mainly formed by sediment shifting, either caused by powerful storms or earthquakes. The sediment actually carves these types of canyons over a period of time that is much shorter than what scientists thought feasible only a few decades ago. The depth of the canyon depends on the severity of the underwater sediment “landslide”, as well as the amount and kinetic energy of the water and materials pushed down the slope during the event.
The Zhemchug Canyon is extremely large and deeper than the Grand Canyon – featuring a depth of more than 2.6 km. Seen from space, it is truly beautiful to behold, the circling formations resembling a large crater, while the Zhemchug is also one of the flattest canyons in the world – another significant aspect that satellites have been able to photograph and measure. Taking up a large portion of the Bering Sea, the deep, oxygen-rich waters of Zhemchug are somewhat enigmatic in their appearance, whether seen from space or the surface. Scientists still have a long way to go before they are able to explore even a small portion of this underwater paradise.