Scientists believe that Antarctica’s Thwaites glacier could cause sea level rises of half a metre due to its melting ice.
Experts evaluated the critical grounding line of the glacier – the point where the ice first touches the sea – for the first time. This was done using a robot that is 13ft tall and can be lowered through half a km of ice.
Britney Schmidt, Cornell University’s polar scientist and robot creator, said that they found a crucial point in Thwaites’ chaotic breakup. “There’s just material flowing out of the glacier.”
There was good news too, as the scientists discovered that the area under the seafloor was melting slower than expected.
They used the “Icefin robot to lower down a hole 587m deep, which was blasted with a hot water jet. They detected crevasses that fractured the ice. These are more dangerous than melting.
“This is how the glacier is crumbling. It isn’t thinning or going away. It shatters,” stated Ms Schmidt, the lead author of one study published in Nature yesterday.
Paul Cutler, director of the Thwaites program at the National Science Foundation, said that this fracturing could “potentially accelerate the overall demise ice shelf,” who was returning from the ice last Wednesday.
“It may eventually fail through falling apart.”
Because its melting could eventually cause sea level rises of 65 cm, the glacier that is Britain-sized has been called “Doomsday Glacier”, though this will take hundreds of years.
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Thwaites melts primarily from below, where warm water is melting away the underside in a process called basal melting,” explained Peter Davis (an oceanographer at British Antarctic Survey) and the lead author of one study.
“Our results were unexpected, but the glacier remains in trouble,” Davis stated.
“If there is an ice shelf and a glacier in balance, the amount of ice that comes off the continent will equal the amount lost from melting and iceberg caving. We found that even with small amounts of melting, there is rapid glacier retreat. It doesn’t seem like it takes much to get the glacier out balance.
According to Mr Davis, glacier retreating is more serious than melt.
The glacier’s retreat or breaking up will result in more ice floating in water. This can cause water levels to plummet like an ice cube in water.
Worse, the findings from the eastern, more stable and larger glacier are even worse.
Researchers were unable to safely land a plane or drill a hole through the ice in their main trunk. This is happening much faster.
“Thwaites is rapidly changing, much faster than when we started our work five years ago, and even more quickly than when we were in field three years ago,” stated Erin Pettit from Oregon State University, who was not part of either study.
“I expect the rapid changes to continue and accelerate in the coming years.”
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