Giant hole in Antarctica Thwaites Glacier

Gwen Vasquez
February 1, 2019

The collapse of the Thwaites Glacier would cause an increase of global sea level of between one and two metres, with the potential for more than twice that from the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

The hole, which is nearly 1,000 feet tall, was seen during the space agency's study of the disintegrating Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica, NASA said Wednesday.

The cavity is growing at the bottom of the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica, and the discovery is part of a NASA-led study of the glacier.

"As more heat and water get under the glacier, it melts faster", he said. Rignot is a co-author of the new study, which was published today in Science Advances.

The researchers say the Florida-sized cavity under the glacier highlights the need for more detailed observations of Antarctic glaciers to better understand just how fast sea levels will rise as a result of climate change, according to a press release. It holds enough ice to raise ocean levels by around two feet.

A NASA-led team studied the glacier using satellites and specialized planes armed with ice-penetrating radar to provide researchers with high-resolution data about the glacier's ever-changing shape and size. The collaboration includes the U.S. National Science Foundation and British National Environmental Research Council.

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

"We are discovering different mechanisms of retreat", first author of the new paper, JPL radar scientist Pietro Milillo explains.

Much of that ice disappeared at an "explosive rate", scientists reported-likely melting only in the last three years. The Thwaites Glacier melting could also lead to nearby glaciers melting, which could lift sea levels around the world an additional eight feet. Even with this accelerating retreat, however, melt rates on this side of the glacier are lower than on the western side.

Meanwhile, "on the eastern side of the glacier, the grounding-line retreat proceeds through small channels, maybe a kilometer [0.6 miles] wide, like fingers reaching beneath the glacier to melt it from below", Milillo said.

In that region, the rate of grounding-line retreat doubled from about 0.6 kilometers a year from 1992 to 2011 to 1.2 kilometers a year from 2011 to 2017, researchers said.

The complex pattern the new readings reveal - which don't fit with current ice sheet or ocean models - suggest scientists have more to learn about how water and ice interact with one another in the frigid but warming Antarctic environment.

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