Scientists study a giant block of ice in Antarctica It is known as the “Doomsday Glacier” and they believe they have discovered why it is melting so quickly and raising sea levels.
A team of researchers in the United Kingdom and the United States found a series of deep channels below Thwaites Glacier It is believed to act as pathways for warm ocean water to melt the underside of the ice.
About 80 billion tons of ice is currently drained from the Amundsen Sea glacier each year – which is about four percent of the planet’s annual sea level rise.
The wild collapse of Thwaites – about the size of Great Britain – could lead to an increase in sea level by about 65 cm, and scientists want to know how quickly this catastrophic scenario might happen.
A series of missions by the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (ITGC) – using ships and aircraft – mapped the marine canals under the glacier in detail for the first time, and found that they were much deeper than previously thought.
Said Dr. Tom Jordan, an atmospheric geophysicist from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) who led the aerial survey.
Tell The Independent: “You look out the window and you see broken shards from the previous ice shelf. It was amazing. It brought home the amount of damage done to this natural system and its collapse.”
Dr. Jordan has no doubt that carbon emissions from human activity have contributed to the warming of the ocean in Antarctica. “It is generally accepted that the warming of the ocean is part of what is driving the decline at Thwaites Glacier,” he said.
“It is part of the changing climate system, and it is a human influence. This is the scientific consensus – that the changes are related to human-induced climate change.”
British and American researchers from the ITGC project began gathering data from glaciers and adjacent ice shelves last year. While one team collected airborne data flying over the glacier and ice shelf in a British Antarctic Twin Otter plane, the other team mapped the seabed at the ice front of the US Antarctic Program’s RV Nathaniel B icebreaker ship.
“For the first time, we have a clear view of the corridors along which the warm water can reach the underside of the glacier, causing it to melt and contribute to global sea level rise.”
Dr. Hogan, author of one of the recently released Research papers At work in West Antarctica, he said the canals are 600 meters deep – the equivalent of six consecutive football fields.
Thwaites Glacier covers about 74,000 square miles and is particularly vulnerable to climate and ocean changes. In the 1990s, the glacier was losing about 10 billion tons of ice every year, but it is now losing about 80 billion tons annually.
It was only due to the rapid collapse of the ice in the first part of 2019 that the RV Nathaniel B Palmer team was able to survey more than 2,000 square kilometers of the sea floor at the ice front of the glacier.
The area previously surveyed was completely hidden under a portion of the floating ice shelf extending from the Thwaites Glacier, which erupted in 2002, and for most of subsequent years the area was inaccessible due to the dense sea ice sheet.
“Flying over the recently collapsing ice tongue and being able to see the changes taking place in Thwaites Glacier was both astonishing and alarming,” said Dave Porter of LDEO Columbia University, who helped conduct the airborne survey.
“But [it is] I am also pleased to know that the airborne data that we have been collecting will help uncover the structures hidden below. “
Dr. Jordan said the team stopped working in Antarctica in March due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, which halted the next phase of the project’s work for five years until 2021.
“We hope the work will help us understand how quickly the glacier is changing and what contribution it will make to sea levels,” he said. Hopefully, this will help governments plan for the long term.
“In the end, we know what the solution to the problem is, which is to reduce carbon emissions.”