Nasa reveals 'disturbing' discovery of huge void in Thwaites Glacier

Olive Hawkins
February 5, 2019

The hole, which is nearly 1,000 feet tall, was seen during the space agency's study of the disintegrating Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica, NASA said Wednesday.

This huge opening at the bottom of the Thwaites Glacier - a mass infamously dubbed the "most risky glacier in the world" - is so big it represents an overt chunk of the estimated 252 billion tonnes of ice Antarctica loses every year.

The NASA-led team were surprised by the size of the cavity, which once contained 14 billion tons of ice.

It holds enough ice to raise the world ocean a little over 65 centimetres and backstops neighbouring glaciers that would raise sea levels an additional 2.4 metres if all the ice were lost, they said. "The International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration is preparing to embark on a field study on the ground during the Southern Hemisphere's next summer, in late 2019 and early 2020".

The pocket is a sign of "rapid decay" and just one of "several disturbing discoveries" made recently regarding the glacier, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a news release Wednesday.

There's a giant void hiding under the Antarctic ice, and it's growing larger and more menacing by the day, a new study using satellite data finds.

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"[The size of] a cavity under a glacier plays an important role in melting", the study's lead author, Pietro Milillo, said.

They found some things: the Antarctic glaciers' undersides need to be calculated more, to see how fast the global sea levels could rise when it comes to climate change. However, huge quantities of this colossal ice cube have melted away over the past three years as a result of climate change, contributing to around 4 percent of global sea level rise. Immediately, we'd get about 2 feet of sea level rise. These satellites, which are part of NASA's Operation IceBridge, have ice-penetrating radar.

Thwaites Glacier is actually one of the most hard places to reach on the planet. But the research shows melt in East Antarctica-long thought to be the more stable region-has been underestimated.

In other words, there's a good chance we could be looking at some serious melting in the near future, thanks to this glacier and the ice around it. "We are discovering different mechanisms of retreat", Milillo explains.

Another changing feature is a glacier's grounding line - the place near the edge of the continent where it lifts off its bed and starts to float on seawater.

From 1992 to 2011, the centre of the Thwaites grounding line retreated by almost 14 kilometres.

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