Wednesday, 24 April, 2019

Massive Cavity Discovered Beneath Antarctic Glacier

031 thwaites glacier cavity antarctica Growing cavity is red mass in centre
Cary Marshall | 01 February, 2019, 20:12

Scientists have discovered a huge cavity forming in the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica.

The massive cavity is about two-thirds of the area of Manhattan and is said to be nearly 1,000-feet tall and growing. This cavern is estimated to have once contained 14 billion tons of ice but, alarmingly, "most of that ice melted over the last three years " according to NASA scientists.

Thwaites Glacier has almost the mass of Florida and accounts for 4 percent of global sea level rise. Scientists expected to find some relatively small gaps between the glacier and bedrock, but were unsettled by the 1,000-foot deep cavity the mission revealed.

Even with this accelerating retreat, however, melt rates on this side of the glacier are lower than on the western side, they said.

NASA researchers say the mysterious cavity is growing at an "explosive" rate.

"We have suspected for years that Thwaites was not tightly attached to the bedrock beneath it", said Eric Rignot of the University of California, Irvine in the US.

'Thanks to a new generation of satellites, we can finally see the detail'.

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Rignot and fellow researchers discovered the cavity using ice-penetrating radar as part of NASA's Operation IceBridge, with additional data supplied by German and French scientists.

'As more heat and water get under the glacier, it melts faster'.

About the size of Florida, Thwaites Glacier is now responsible for approximately 4 percent of global sea level rise. The U.S. National Science Foundation and British National Environmental Research Council are mounting a five-year field project to answer the most critical questions about its processes and features.

A large cavity has formed under what has been described as one of the world's most unsafe glaciers, and could contribute to a significant bump in global sea levels, said Nasa scientists.

"We are discovering different mechanisms of retreat", Milillo said. 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. In essence, this means that the glacier at this spot is exposed to the ebb and flow of the tide, which causes the ice at the grounding line to retreat and advance across a region that's about 2 to 3 miles (3 to 5 km) long.

The glacier isn't retreating uniformly.

Milillo told weather.com that the discovery was also surprising because "it highlights that ice-ocean interactions are more complex than previously understood". 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.

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