The Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica is one of the major roles in climate change. Together with the Pines Glacier, it blocks the vast ice mass of West Antarctis; If it collapses, this will cause sea levels to rise rapidly around the world and ice in the region will be in motion. This is why it is considered by some to be a “doomsday glacier”. An expedition led by Karen Heywood from the University of East Anglia and her team first provided data on the situation beneath the glacier. He published his results in “Science Advances”. – And these are cause for concern.
Data obtained with the help of an autonomous diving robot suggest that even more hot water flows into the glacier and thus endangers its stability. The glacier tongue of about 60 kilometers floats on the Amundsen Sea and is particularly exposed to ocean currents. Hot water can melt the ice from below and make the glacier hollow. The area where the ice tongue rests on the seabed can move towards the mainland, which further increased the process of melting further portions. Until now, the area has hardly been investigated, as access to the surrounding sea ice is blocked.
Diving robots and sonar data identified three deep channels in the sea under the ice. One of them stretches from Pine Island Bay under a glacier – an access that was completely unknown. Until now it was not thought that a rock would limit the area. In one of the canals, Heywood and CO also measured how much thermal energy is supplied to the Thwaites glacier from the north. The 0.8 terawatt determined in this way melts more than 75 cubic kilometers of ice each year alone. This amount corresponds to the loss of ice that was previously eclipsed for the entire shelf area.
The measurements also showed that hot water flows to the places where the glaciers come from different sides. In the long run, it can destabilize the glacier and flow rapidly into the ocean. It is also expected to accelerate its melting, which is already the reason for rising about four percent of the global sea level. The whole of West Antarctica has also contributed a tenth to this increase. And another increase cannot be ruled out, as the Thyites Glacier is one of the regions on Earth most affected by climate change.