‘World’s most dangerous’ glacier could soon collapse triggering sea level rise

The Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica is seen in this undated NASA image. Vast glaciers in West Antarctica seem to be locked in an irreversible thaw linked to global warming that may push up sea levels for centuries scientists said

At the beginning of the study, the researchers therefore assume that you would find on a glacier at the end of some of the gaps between the ice and the surface, according to Nasa, in a statement. The size and explosive growth rate of the newfound hole, however, surprised them. That cavity is big enough to hold 14 billion tons of ice or 5.6 million Olympic-sized swimming pools.

"We have suspected for years that Thwaites was not tightly attached to the bedrock beneath it", says glaciologist Eric Rignot from the University of California, Irvine, and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

Thwaites glacier in western Antarctica. The growing cavity (red mass, center) caused the greatest sinking. The mottled area (bottom left) shows extensive iceberg calving.

A NASA-led team studied the glacier using satellites and specialized planes armed with ice-penetrating radar to provide researchers with high-resolution data about the glacier's ever-changing shape and size. Researchers combined the NASA data with data from Italian and German spaceborne synthetic aperture radars. That cavern is likely filled with air much warmer than the surrounding ice, triggering faster melting of the glacier than would happen otherwise. Understanding this new quirk in the glacier's underbelly will be crucial to refining estimates of how fast the overall glacier will retreat.

About the extent of Florida, Thwaites Glacier is as of now in charge of around 4 percent of worldwide ocean level ascent.


Thwaites Glacier plays an instrumental role in the story of rising sea levels and climate change, so there's never been more of a drive to study and understand it. The collaboration includes the U.S. National Science Foundation and British National Environmental Research Council. With the new satellite, it was possible for the first time, to measure the change of the glacier and the extent of the cavity. Here, the retreat rate of the ground line has doubled from about 0.4 miles (0.6 km) annually from 1992 to 2011 to 0.8 miles (1.2 km) a year from 2011 to 2017, he said.

Just as a grounded boat can float again when the weight of its cargo is removed, a glacier that loses ice weight can float over land where it used to stick. At the point when this occurs, the establishing line withdraws inland. The continent is rapidly melting, and a large chunk of the snow and ice is only held back from the ocean by an array of glaciers and ice shelves guarding the coasts.

"We are discovering different mechanisms of retreat", first author of the new paper, JPL radar scientist Pietro Milillo explains.

MODIS Mosaic of Antarctica (MOA) image map is a composite of 260 swaths comprised of both Terra and Aqua MODIS images acquired between November 20, 2003 and February 29, 2004 of the Thwaites glacier in West Antarctica.

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