Sunday, 18 August, 2019


Massive Hole Two-Thirds the Size of Manhattan Discovered in Antarctic Glacier

Gigantic cavity in Antarctic glacier signals rapid decay Image courtesy Reuters
Kristine Garrett | 01 February, 2019, 20:09

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

The cavity is colossal, about two-thirds the area of Manhattan and almost 1,000 feet (300 meters) tall.

Researchers have previously warned that the huge Thwaites glacier could trigger a runaway ice sheet collapse which could raise global sea levels by 10 feet.

The Thwaites Glacier is around the size of Florida, and the team of NASA-led scientists researching it had expected to find "some gaps" between the ice and bedrock.

In Thwaites' case, that radar uncovered a very big cavern between the glacier itself and the bedrock below it.

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", said Eric Rignot of the University of California, Irvine, and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The data NASA researchers used in the study came from a new generation of ice-penetrating radar used in NASA's Operation IceBridge airborne campaign. All the data was then processed using a technique called radar interferometry to show how the ground below the surface is moving between images. "As more heat and water get under the glacier, it melts faster", said Pietro Milillo of JPL. The growing cavity is the red mass at the center.

About the size of Florida, Thwaites Glacier is now responsible for approximately 4 percent of global sea level rise.

The collapse of the Thwaites Glacier would cause an increase of global sea level of between one and two metres, with the potential for more than twice that from the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

"We are discovering different mechanisms of retreat", Milillo said. In this region, as the tide rises and falls, the grounding line retreats and advances across a zone of about three to five kilometers.

The glacier is retreating in the face of the warming ocean and is thought to be unstable because its interior lies more than two kilometres below sea level while, at the coast, the bottom of the glacier is quite shallow. The glacier has been coming unstuck from a ridge in the bedrock at a steady rate of about 0.4 to 0.5 miles (0.6 to 0.8 kilometers) a year since 1992.

Thwaites Glacier, curiously, isn't melting in a uniform way. The Thwaites Glacier melting could also lead to nearby glaciers melting, which could lift sea levels around the world an additional eight feet.

Despite this high rate of retreat, melt rates are still higher on the western side, where the void is located. Hopefully, the upcoming global collaboration will help researchers piece together the different systems at work under and around the glacier, the researchers said.

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