Here's How Much Ice Antarctica Is Losing-It's a Lot

Thwaites Glacier acts like a giant cork that holds back the West Antarctic Ice Sheet More

Thwaites Glacier acts like a giant cork that holds back the West Antarctic Ice Sheet More

A massive cavity two-thirds the size of Manhattan has been discovered growing in an Antarctic glacier, signaling rapid ice decay that has shocked scientists.

MODIS Mosaic of Antarctica (MOA) image map is a composite of 260 swaths comprised of both Terra and Aqua MODIS images acquired between November 20, 2003 and February 29, 2004 of the Thwaites glacier in West Antarctica.

Researchers have previously warned that the huge Thwaites glacier could trigger a runaway ice sheet collapse which could raise global sea levels by 10 feet.

Analysts expected to discover a few gaps among ice and bedrock at Thwaites' bottom where ocean water could stream in and soften the icy mass from underneath.

The Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica covers 182,000 square kilometres - an area the size of Great Britain - and is one of the biggest in the world.

However, the researchers say that the size and growth rate of the hole surprised them.

"Thanks to a new generation of satellites, we can finally see the detail".

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Eric Rignot, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) researcher and Operation IceBridge study co-author, said: "We have suspected for years that Thwaites was not tightly attached to the bedrock beneath it". Hopefully, the upcoming global collaboration will help researchers piece together the different systems at work under and around the glacier, the researchers said. Even more disturbing, they found that most of the ice melted just within the last three years.

The monster glacier is about the size of Florida and is responsible for roughly 4% of global sea level rise. The Rock under the glacier is much deeper than the level of the sea. Instead, scientists use satellite or airborne instrument data to observe features that change as a glacier melts, such as its flow speed and surface height.

The Thwaites glacier is slightly smaller than the total size of the United Kingdom, approximately the same size as the state of Washington, and is located in the Amundsen Sea. For instance, the 100-mile-long (160 kilometers) glacier front has different rates of retreat in its grounding line (where the sea ice meets the ocean's bedrock) depending on where you look.

And worse, its neighbouring glaciers would raise sea levels an additional eight feet if all the ice was lost.

"On the eastern side of the glacier, the grounding-line retreat proceeds through small channels, maybe a kilometre wide, like fingers reaching beneath the glacier to melt it from below", Milillo said.

Researchers hope the new findings will help others preparing for fieldwork in the area better understand the ice-ocean interactions.

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