Heat beneath glaciers could raise sea levels

Die Front des Thwaites-Gletschers mit Eis unter der Wasseroberfläche im Südwesten der Antarktis im Oktober 2012. (picture alliance / Nasa / Jim Yungel )

German and British researchers have found that rising heat beneath the Thwaites Glacier in the West Antarctic Amundsen Sea may be contributing to a further reduction of ice mass.

As the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven explained, about four percent of the global sea level rise due to climate change could be due to the melting of giant glaciers. The high heat flow under the ice is due to the location of the glacier, which is located in a tectonic rift and consists of a thin crust of the Earth. However, it is not clear to what extent rising geothermal energy alters glaciers. “The temperature beneath the glacier depends on several factors – for example on the question of whether the subsurface consists of compact rock or meter-thick water-soaked sediments,” explains study co-author and geophysicist Carsten Gohl. in AWI. The high geothermal energy can cause the underground portion of the glacier floor to no longer freeze properly.

The new findings have to be checked by further measurements. Researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute, the Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research and the British Antarctic Survey are involved in the project.

This message was broadcast on Deutschlandfunk on August 19, 2021.

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