Massive Cavity Discovered Beneath Antarctic Glacier

Mindy Sparks
February 1, 2019

None of these are doing well, but one of them-the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica-is rapidly crumbling.

The massive cavity is about two-thirds of the area of Manhattan and is said to be nearly 1,000-feet tall and growing.

Thwaites Glacier has almost the mass of Florida and accounts for 4 percent of global sea level rise.

Before they made the discovery, Nasa researchers were looking for gaps between ice and bedrock at the bottom of Thwaites where ocean water flows in and melts the glacier from underneath.

The Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica covers 182,000 square kilometres - an area the size of Great Britain - and is one of the biggest in the world.

Bute size and explosive growth rate of the newfound hole surprised them.

"We have suspected for years that Thwaites was not tightly attached to the bedrock beneath it", study co-researcher Eric Rignot, a professor of Earth system science at the University of California, Irvine, and a principal scientist for the Radar Science and Engineering Section at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.

Scientists spotted the concealed void thanks to a new generation of satellites, Rignot noted. Researchers combined the NASA data with data from Italian and German spaceborne synthetic aperture radars.


'As more heat and water get under the glacier, it melts faster'. The red mass in the center shows the growing cavity.

Once gone, surrounding glaciers will have no obstacle in their path, speeding up their melting and the potential release of enough water to raise sea levels by as much as 2.4m. Previous numerical models for the melting of the glacier used a fixed shape to represent a cavity under the ice and didn't allow for the cavity to change shape or grow.

Last year, the National Science Foundation and Britain's Natural Environment Research Council launched a joint programme called the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration to study the unstable glacier and its role in sea levels. The melting of this glacier could lead to as much as 10 feet of sea level rise over the next century or so.

Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica has lost most of that ice in only the past three years - a dire forecast for sea level rise.

Different processes at various parts of the 160-kilometer-long front of the glacier are putting the rates of grounding line retreat and of ice loss out of sync, NASA said.

Another changing feature is a glacier's grounding line - the place near the edge of the continent where it lifts off its bed and starts to float on seawater.

Researchers hope the new findings will help others preparing for fieldwork in the area better understand the ice-ocean interactions. Hopefully, the upcoming worldwide collaboration will help researchers piece together the different systems at work under and around the glacier, the researchers said.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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