Giant Void Hidden Under Antarctica’s Ice Threatens Vast Glacier

Cristina Cross
February 5, 2019

A massive cavity two-thirds the size of Manhattan has been discovered growing in an Antarctic glacier, signaling rapid ice decay that has shocked scientists.

An enormous cavity has been discovered at the base of the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica. The water level in the oceans will rise, which will allow offshore glaciers of Antarctica to break away from the ground, turning just in glaciers.

"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.

Scientists spotted the concealed void thanks to a new generation of satellites, Rignot noted.

NASA's Operation IceBridge, launched in 2010, uses ice-penetrating radar to measure the rate of melting in some of the most remote and inhospitable regions in the world.

"[The size of] a cavity under a glacier plays an important role in melting", said Pietro Milillo, a NASA researcher and study lead author. That cavern is likely filled with air much warmer than the surrounding ice, triggering faster melting of the glacier than would happen otherwise.

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Nasa has made a series of shocking discoveries about the state of the glacier. It found Antarctica as a whole went from losing about 40 gigatons of ice per year in the 1980s to 252 gigatons per year over the last decade. Findings highlight the need for detailed observations of Antarctic glaciers' undersides in calculating future sea level rise.

The graphic shows, the effects of sea-level Rise on the coastal regions.

The US National Science Foundation and British National Environmental Research Council are beginning a five-year field project to answer the most critical questions about its processes and features.

While Thwaites is certainly a hard place to reach, a five-year expedition by the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration to study the glacier will begin this summer. 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. However, the size of the cavity came as a big surprise-it was about 2.5 miles wide, six miles long and 1,000 feet tall.

"The researchers on the current study hope that these new results will help inform that team's work", the news portal continued. Thwaites also "backstops neighboring glaciers that would raise sea levels an additional 8 feet (2.4 meters) if all the ice were lost", they added.

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