Melting Antarctic glacier could increase global sea levels 8 feet

Cristina Cross
February 3, 2019

'The size of a cavity under a glacier plays an important role in melting, ' said Nasa's Pietro Milillo.

Scientists say that this is a very important find because the bigger the hole is, the more heat and water can get under the glacier, thereby melting it faster.

Their findings show that Thwaites Glacier is suffering from extensive ice thinning, receding, and calving, as well as a 300-meter (1,000-foot) hole inside its west wing that's growing at an "explosive" rate.

Scientists thought there might be some gaps between Thwaites Glacier and the bedrock below it, where ocean water could flow in and melt the icy glacier above it. They say that the size of the cavity is big enough to have contained 14 billion tons of ice and that all the ice melted over the last three years.

The pocket is a sign of "rapid decay" and just one of "several disturbing discoveries" made recently regarding the glacier, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a news release Wednesday. He was ten kilometers long and four kilometers wide, and therefore as large as two-thirds of the area of Manhattan, write researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of the U.S. space Agency Nasa in the journal "Science Advances".

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

The researchers also used data from a constellation of Italian and German space-borne synthetic aperture radars. The melting of this glacier could lead to as much as 10 feet of sea level rise over the next century or so.

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Although Thwaites Glacier is one of the hardest places on Earth to reach, more of its secrets will soon be revealed. These satellites, which are part of NASA's Operation IceBridge, have ice-penetrating radar.

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.

Changes in surface height at Thwaites Glacier's grounding line, 2011 to 2017, with sinking areas in red and rising areas in blue. "We are discovering different mechanisms of retreat", Milillo explains.

A team of researchers discovered that huge space is rapidly forming under West Antarctica, a region that is quite big, on par with nearly 66% of the surface that is occupied by Manhattan.

Since 1992, it has been slowly becoming unstuck from the bedrock at a rate of 0.4 miles to 0.5 miles a year, and the melt rate is considered extremely high.

These results highlighted that ice-ocean interactions were more complex than previously understood. The fastest retreat of floating ice is about a half mile a year with various areas thinning at up to 650 feet per year.

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