According to NASA, "a few disturbing discoveries" have been reported in their explorations of the Thwaites colossal glaciers in West Antarctica. In addition to the usual ice hockey stories, they found a gigantic cavity – perhaps the size of the Eiffel Tower – growing at the bottom of the vast glacier.
Ice Thwaites, roughly the size of Florida, once contained over 14 billion tons of frozen water, enough to raise the world sea level by more than 2 feet (65 centimeters). However, huge volumes of this huge ice cubes have shaken over the past three years as a result of climate change, contributing to about 4 percent of the global sea level rise.
As published in the journal Scientific progress, the researchers got a clearer picture of glacial conditions. Their findings show that the Thwaites glacier suffers from extensive hardening of ice, retreats and calving, as well as the 300-meter hole within its western wing that is growing at "explosive" speed.
"[The size of] the cavity below the glacier plays an important role in the melt, said research leader Pietro Milillo of NASA's JPL (JPL). statement. "As more heat and water penetrate under the glacier, it melts faster."
The team from NASA's leadership has been studying the glacier using satellites and specialized aircraft equipped with radar penetrating ice to provide high-resolution data on glacier shape and size to researchers. This information also throws light on another concern about the glaze grounding line, the point at which the glacier begins to swing from the land and float at sea. The research has shown that the Thwaites glacier separates from the rocks beneath it, which means that several glacial bases are exposed to water heating. This makes the glaze even more sensitive to melting.
"For years we have suspected that Thwaites is not firmly tied to the foundation behind it," said Eric Rignot of the University of California, Irvine, and NASA JPL. "Thanks to the new generation of satellites, we can finally see the details."
Glacier Thwaites plays an instrumental role in the story of sea level rise and climate change, so there has never been more difficulty in learning and understanding. Just this week, the icebreaker left Chile and started a scientific expedition to the Thwaites glacier with the help of numerous other ships, explorers, planes and wildcards.
"Understanding the detail of how the ocean freezes this glacier is indispensable for designing its impact on rising sea levels in the coming decades," added Rignot.