The Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica is seen in this undated NASA image. Image Reuters
05 February, 2019, 02:42
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.
Scientists have discovered a huge cavity forming in the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica.
According to NASA, the cavity once contained some 14 billion tons of ice, most of which has supposedly melted in last three years. Thwaites has enough ice that if it all melted, global sea levels would rise a little more than two feet.
Researchers were shocked when they discovered how much ice had been lost already, expecting to find much smaller gaps.
Crevasses are seen in the Thwaites glacier on October 16, 2012.
Researcher Eric Rignot of the University of California, Irvine said, 'We have suspected for years that Thwaites was not tightly attached to the bedrock beneath it.
"[The size of] a cavity under a glacier plays an important role in melting", the study's lead author, Pietro Milillo of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a news release about the study.
And if all the ice in neighboring glaciers were to melt, it would raise global sea levels by approximately eight feet (2.4 meters), which would spell disaster for the majority of the world's coastal populations, accounting for upwards of 80 percent of the entire human population. Hopefully, the upcoming global collaboration will help researchers piece together the different systems at work under and around the glacier, the researchers said. Thwaites Glacier, among the most threatened hunks of ice on the continent, is in even more dire straits than previously reported.
Thwaites glacier is one of the most hard places on Earth to reach. A radar was used to peer through the ice to see to the bottom of the glacier.
"We are discovering different mechanisms of retreat", Millilo said. That exposes more of a glacier's underside to sea water, increasing the likelihood its melt rate will accelerate.
Civilization's most important glacier has revealed another worrying surprise to scientists.
Changes in surface height at Thwaites Glacier's grounding line. In this locale, as the tide rises and falls, the establishing line retreats and progresses over a zone of around 2 to 3 miles (3 to 5 kilometers).
The complex pattern the new readings reveal - which don't fit with current ice sheet or ocean models - suggest scientists have more to learn about how water and ice interact with one another in the frigid but warming Antarctic environment.
Thwaites Glacier is located in West Antarctica, an area that is facing what could be runaway melt owing to geography and inescapable heat.
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