Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica is playing a major role in climate change. Together with the Pines Glacier, it blocks the massive ice blocks of West Antarctica; If it collapsed, it would cause sea level to rise sharply around the world and ice would start in the area. That is why some consider it a “doomsday glacier”. An expedition led by Karen Heywood of the University of East Anglia and her team provided data on the state of the bottom of the glacier for the first time. They published their results in “Science Advances”. – This is a cause for concern.
Data obtained with the help of an autonomous diving robot shows that more warm water flows into the glacier and thus endangers its stability. It floats about 60 kilometers from the Glacier on the Amundsen Sea and is particularly exposed to ocean currents. Warm water can melt the ice from below and empty a glacier. The area where the ice sheet is anchored on the sea floor may move further towards the mainland, exposing other parts of the increased melting process. So far, this area has not been investigated due to the ban on access due to the surrounding sea ice.
The diving robot and sonar data identified three channels deep in the sea under the ice. One of them stretches from Pine Island Bay under the glacier – an inlet that was not entirely unknown. Until now it was believed that the rocky ledge would define the area. In one of the channels, Heywood and Co also measured how much heat energy is being supplied to the Thwaites Glacier from the north. The 0.8 terawatts defined in this way alone are melting over 75 cubic kilometers of ice every year. The amount corresponds to the previously assumed ice loss for the entire shelf area.
The measurements also showed that warm water flows into the areas where the glacier is located from different sides. In the long term, this might make the glacier more unstable and flow faster at sea. It would also likely accelerate its melt, which is already causing sea level to rise by about four percent. The entire West Antarctica contributes a tenth of that increase. A further increase cannot be ruled out, since the Thwaites Glacier is one of the regions most affected by climate change on Earth.