Newly discovered deep seabed channels beneath Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica may be the pathway for warm ocean water to melt the underside of the ice.
Researchers from Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (ITGC), collected data from the glacier and adjoining Dotson and Crosson ice shelves during January-March 2019. While one team collected airborne data flying over the glacier and ice shelf.
Over the past 30 years, the overall rate of ice loss from Thwaites and its neighbouring glaciers has increased more than 5-fold.
Already, ice draining from Thwaites into the Amundsen Sea accounts for about four percent of global sea-level rise.
A run-away collapse of the glacier could lead to a significant increase in sea levels of around 65 cm (25 inches) and scientists want to find out how quickly this could happen.
The offshore channels, along with the adjacent cavity system, are very likely to be the route by which warm ocean water passes underneath the ice shelf up to the grounding line, where the ice meets the bed.
The area surveyed had previously been hidden beneath part of the floating ice shelf extending from Thwaites Glacier, which broke off in 2002, and in most subsequent years the area was inaccessible due to thick sea-ice cover.
By examining retreat patterns over this sea-floor terrain we will be able to help numerical modellers and glaciologists in their quest to predict future retreat.
Ice shelf is a large floating platform of ice that forms where a glacier or ice sheet flows down to a coastline and onto the ocean surface. Ice shelves are only found in Antarctica, Greenland, Canada, and the Russian Arctic.