Research: Huge cavity in Antarctic glacier signals rapid decay

NASA makes ‘disturbing’ find under Antarctic glacier

At about the size of Florida, it holds enough ice to raise the level of the sea around the world almost three feet.

Instead, the team used airborne and satellite ice-penetrating radars to reveal the cavity.

A large cavity has formed under what has been described as one of the world's most unsafe glaciers, and could contribute to a significant bump in global sea levels, said Nasa scientists. The melting of this glacier could lead to as much as 10 feet of sea level rise over the next century or so.

Researchers expected to find some gaps between ice and bedrock at Thwaites' bottom where ocean water could flow in and melt the glacier from below. This cavity is growing fast and presently is two-third the size of Manhattan about 1,000 ft tall.

Researchers have discovered a cavity the size of the Eiffel Tower growing under the Thwaites Glacier.

What they found was that, along with the cavity, "Thwaites Glacier is peeling off from the bedrock beneath it, meaning more of the glacier's base is exposed to warming waters".

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But the extent and explosive growth rate of the aperture astonished the researchers.

NASA also believes that the cavity is giant enough to have contained 14 billion tons of ice, most of which melted only in the last three years. Along with the Pine Island Glacier, it is part of the "weak underbelly" of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet that scientists interested in tracking changing climate and rising seas closely monitor. "(The size of) a cavity under a glacier plays an important role in melting", said lead author Pietro Milillo of Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a statement.

"We have suspected for years that Thwaites was not tightly attached to the bedrock beneath it", said Eric Rignot, one of the co-authors of the study.

An investigation by the New York Times from 2017 looked at the Thwaites Glacier, which is roughly the size of Florida, and how much ice it's regularly shedding and feeding into the sea.

Whether they're in your teeth or in an Antarctic glacier, cavities are a bad sign. "Thanks to a new generation of satellites, we can finally see the detail..." The two organizations want to understand what's happening to the glacier and monitor its response to climate change in the future.

The International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration is a collaboration project between the U.S. National Science Foundation and the British National Environmental Research Council. That exposes more of a glacier's underside to sea water, increasing the likelihood its melt rate will accelerate.

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