Published: Tue, February 05, 2019
Research | By Raquel Erickson

Huge Cavity in Antarctic Glacier Signals Rapid Decay

Huge Cavity in Antarctic Glacier Signals Rapid Decay

The discovery of cavity beneath Thwaites Glacier along with a number of other disconcerting features offer a new wrinkle to the harrowing tale of West Antarctica.

In record speed grows under a glacier in the Antarctic, a huge cavity.

Researchers were shocked when they discovered how much ice had been lost already, expecting to find much smaller gaps.

However, the researchers say that the size and growth rate of the hole surprised them.

"We have suspected for years that Thwaites was not tightly attached to the bedrock beneath it", study author Rignot said in a NASA statement. "Thanks to a new generation of satellites, we can finally see the detail", he said.

Scientists used a combination of ice-penetrating radar flown on NASA planes and European satellite data to capture what's going on. This exceptionally high-goals information can be handled by a strategy called radar interferometry to uncover how the ground surface beneath has moved between pictures.

"There's more heat and water under the glacier, melting it faster", says Pietro Milillo from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of Nasa in Pasadena.


When this happens, the grounding line retreats inland, exposing more of a glacier's underside to sea water, increasing the likelihood its melt rate will accelerate. But, in the course of just three years, it has melted and flowed into the Southern Ocean.

The researchers say the Florida-sized cavity under the glacier highlights the need for more detailed observations of Antarctic glaciers to better understand just how fast sea levels will rise as a result of climate change, according to a press release.

The graphic shows, the effects of sea-level Rise on the coastal regions. It is thought that the water that comes from Thwaites represents up to 5% of the seal level rise that is now taking place around the earth.

"We are discovering different mechanisms of retreat, ' Mr Milillo said".

In the part of the Thwaites Glacier where the cavity has been detected, the scientists have observed a "complex pattern of retreat and ice melt" with parts of the glacier retreating about 2,625 feet per year. Despite this stable rate of grounding-line retreat, the melt rate on this side of the glacier is extremely high. The collaboration includes the U.S. National Science Foundation and British National Environmental Research Council.

If this mysterious glacier were to "go bad"-glaciologist-speak for the process by which a glacier breaks down into icebergs and eventually collapses into the ocean-it might be more than a scientific curiosity". He would melt completely would be a sea level rise of 65 cm.

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