Science

Huge cavity in Antarctic glacier signals rapid decay

Huge cavity in Antarctic glacier signals rapid decay”

A glacier described as the "world's most dangerous" is showing worrying signs of collapse, after scientists found an 1,000ft tall cavity growing beneath the ice.

Scientists have found a "cavity" melted in the ice that occupies roughly two-thirds the surface area of Manhattan, prompting the space agency say its existence "signals" the ice sheet's "rapid decay".

JPL said the glacier, about the size of Florida, holds enough ice to raise ocean levels another 60 centimetres if it completely melts.

Within each main region of Antarctica (East, West and the Antarctic Peninsula), ice loss has been concentrated in certain sectors over the last 40 years, the new study finds.

Yet the enormous size and fast-moving growth rate of the hole in Thwaites was called both "disturbing" and "surprising" by researchers. "Thanks to a new generation of satellites, we can finally see the detail", he said.

The data comes from NASA's Operation IceBridge, a program that flies radar-equipped planes over the poles to map out glaciers and ice sheets in three dimensions.

"The size of a cavity under a glacier plays an important role in melting", lead author Pietro Milillo said in a statement.

By observing the undersides of Antarctic glaciers, researchers hope to calculate how fast global sea levels will rise in response to climate change. The growing cavity (red mass, center) caused the greatest sinking.

The new data, revealed by ice-penetrating radar aboard aircraft flying over Antarctica, point to a previously underestimated method of glacial collapse that scientists' models don't adequately factor in.

According to the readings, the hidden void is but one ice casualty among a "complex pattern of retreat and ice melt" that's taking place at Thwaites Glacier, sectors of which are retreating by as much as 800 metres (2,625 ft) every year. Even with this accelerating retreat, however, melt rates on this side of the glacier are lower than on the western side.

"We are discovering different mechanisms of retreat, ' Mr Milillo said".

From 1992 to 2011, the centre of the Thwaites grounding line retreated by almost 14 kilometres. The glacier has been coming unstuck from a ridge in the bedrock at a steady rate of about 0.4 to 0.5 miles (0.6 to 0.8 kilometers) a year since 1992. Hopefully, the upcoming worldwide collaboration will help researchers piece together the different systems at work under and around the glacier, the researchers said. The Thwaites Glacier melting could also lead to nearby glaciers melting, which could lift sea levels around the world an additional eight feet.



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