Recently found deep seabed channels underneath Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica might be the path for warm ocean water to melt the ice’s underside. Collected data from research missions, utilizing ship and aircraft, helps researchers understand the contribution this massive and remote glacier will make to future global sea-level increase.
A team of researchers from the UK and US International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (ITGC) gathered data from the giant glacier and adjoining Crosson and Dotson ice shelves during a short period in 2019. The findings and results are incredible. Here is what you need to know.
Antarctic Glacier’s Features and Role Investigated
Over the last three decades, the overall ice loss rate from Thwaites and other close glaciers has grown more than 5-fold. The ice draining from Thwaites into the Amundsen Sea is approximately 4 % of global sea-level rise. Also, a run-away collapse of the glacier might lead to an increase in sea levels of about 65cm, and researchers want to see how quickly this could happen.
Dr. Tom Jordan, the lead author of the recent research and an aero-geophysicist at BAS, discussed the channels and the cavity system hidden underneath the ice shelf. He said: “[…] they are deeper than expected; […] they form the critical link between the ocean and the glacier.”
An uncommon sea-ice break up in early 2019 enabled the team to examine more than 2000 square km of the seafloor at the glacier’s ice front. The area investigated had previously been hidden underneath a part of the floating ice shelf prolonging from Thwaites Glacier, which collapsed in 2002. In most subsequent years, the region was inaccessible due to dense sea-ice cover.
The team’s discoveries unveil the seafloor is way deeper and has more deep channels than was previously thought. By analyzing retreat patterns over this seafloor terrain, researchers will be able to help numerical modelers, and glaciologists forecast future retreats.
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