Very big cavity under Antartic glacier indicates surge in rising sea levels

05 February, 2019, 02:43 | Author: Tara Reeves
  • Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica

The hole, which is nearly 1,000 feet tall, was seen during the space agency's study of the disintegrating Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica, NASA said Wednesday.

A massive hole two-thirds the size of Manhattan was just discovered in what is dubbed as the "most risky glacier in the world".

The resulting hole passed once 14 billion tons of ice - the bulk of it was melted off within the past three years, the scientists write in the journal "Science Advances" after the evaluation of different Radar images. It holds enough ice to raise the world sea somewhat more than 2 feet (65 centimeters) and stopping boards neighboring glaciers that would raise ocean levels an extra 8 feet (2.4 meters) if all the ice were lost.

The International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration will begin its field experiments in the Southern Hemisphere summer of 2019-20.

"We have suspected for years that Thwaites was not tightly attached to the bedrock beneath it", said Eric Rignot, one of the co-authors of the study.

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.

'The size of the cavity under a glacier plays an important role in melting, ' said study lead author Pietro Milillo of NASA.

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Thwaites Glacier alone holds enough ice above sea level to raise sea levels by more than 65cm if it was to melt. Immediately, we'd get about 2 feet of sea level rise. With the new satellite, it was possible for the first time, to measure the change of the glacier and the extent of the cavity.

That's important to know, since Thwaites now accounts for about 4 percent of global sea level rise.

For Thwaites, "We are discovering different mechanisms of retreat", Millilo said.

Not only is more ice melting than previously detected, it shows the 160km wide Thwaites Glacier is not as firmly fixed to the surface of the Antarctic continent as believed. This information is extremely useful to scientists because how quickly a glacier melts depends a great deal on what's going on near that bedrock. The disappearance of the ice mass would cause sea levels to rise by about two feet as well as making surrounding glaciers more likely to melt rapidly-which could cause an eight foot rise.

In that region, the rate of grounding-line retreat doubled from about 0.6 kilometres a year from 1992 to 2011 to 1.2 kilometres a year from 2011 to 2017, researchers said.

From 1992 to 2011, the centre of the Thwaites grounding line retreated by almost 14 kilometres.

Researchers hope the new findings will help others preparing for fieldwork in the area better understand the ice-ocean interactions.

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