According to NASA, their survey on the colossal Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica has "made several disturbing discoveries." Besides the usual story of the thinning ice, they found a gigantic cave – perhaps the size of the Eiffel Tower – at the bottom of the huge glacier.
The Thwaites Glacier, about the size of Florida, once contained over 14 billion tons of frozen water, enough to raise the world's sea level by more than 65 cm. However, large amounts of this colossal ice cube have melted away in the last three years as a result of climate change, contributing to a 4 percent increase in global sea levels.
As reported in the journal Science Advances researchers have obtained a clearer picture of the plight of the glacier. Their results show that the Thwaites glacier suffers from extensive ice thinning, degradation and scaling, as well as a 300 meter long hole in the west wing that explodes.
"[The size of] A cave under a glacier plays an important role in melting," said study director Pietro Milillo of NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in a statement. "When more heat and water get under the glacier, it melts faster."
A NASA-led team studied the glacier with satellites and specialized aircraft equipped with ice-penetrating radar to provide researchers with high-resolution data on the ever-changing shape and size of the glacier. These data also provide information about another concern over the glacier's ground line, the point at which the glacier begins to diverge and float on the sea. Research has shown that the Thwaites glacier peels off the ground, meaning that more of the base of the glacier is exposed to warming water. This in turn makes the glacier even more susceptible to melting.
"We have suspected for years that Thwaites was not firmly grounded," said Eric Rignot of the University of California, Irvine and NASA's JPL. "Thanks to a new generation of satellites, we can finally see the details."
Thwaites Glacier plays an important role in the history of sea-level rise and climate change. There has never been a greater drive to study and understand. This week, an icebreaker ship left Chile to begin a scientific expedition to the Thwaites Glacier with the help of a series of other ships, explorers, aircraft, and marked wild seals.
"Understanding the details of ocean merging This glacier is critical to predicting its impact on sea-level rise in the coming decades," Rignot added.