First published on Sep 7, 2022, 4:21 PM IST
UWest Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier, about the size of the state of Florida, is melting faster than previously thought, new study finds. Experts claim that the glacier is now melting faster than estimated 200 years ago. Melting of the Thwaites Glacier, also known as the ‘Doomsday Glacier’, could cause global sea levels to rise. Melting of the Thwaites and the surrounding ice-covered lakes could cause global sea levels to rise by 10 feet, or almost three metres, experts warn. Thwaites Glacier is slightly smaller than the entire UK, and roughly the size of Washington State. It is located in the Amundsen Sea adjacent to Antarctica. The Doomsday Glacier is up to 4,000 m (13,100 ft thick) in height. Thwaites considers glaciers to be an important predictor of global sea level rise.
The study of how melting glaciers affect global sea levels is a very important one. For the first time, scientists have produced a definitive map of the seabed in front of Thwaite in high resolution.
The stunning imagery helped science delve into new geological features. Experts from the University of South Florida College of Marine Science say that through this mapping, the scientific world has been able to find an almost exact answer to what the future of the Thwaite Glacier will be.
Analysis of the new images shows that the rate of Thwaite Glacier’s retreat is greater than the fastest rate of change in its past. The study also warns that the glacier could see major changes on a short timescale in the future.
The team found more than 160 parallel cracks in Doomsday Glacier. According to the study, they circle the glacier like a footprint. It retreats to the front of the glacier and moves up and down with the daily tides.
‘It’s like looking at a tide gauge on the beach,’ says geophysicist Alastair Graham. Researchers analyzed rib-like formations (cracks) submerged half a mile (700 m) beneath the Arctic Ocean to understand Thwaites’ past retreat.
Over the past 200 years, in less than six months, the glacier front has lost contact with a seabed and retreated at a rate of more than 1.3 miles (2.1 km) per year. This is double the rate recorded earlier. The study was made possible using satellite images between 2011 and 2019.
‘Our findings suggest that Thwaites Glacier has experienced a very rapid retreat over the past two centuries. It probably happened in the middle of the 20th century,’ says Graham.
Robert Larter, a marine geophysicist from the British Antarctic Survey and co-author of the study, said: ‘The Thwaites today are interconnected. Expect big changes in short timeframes in the future. Losing its connection, the glacier can be divided into two.’ means
The team, which included scientists from the US, UK and Sweden, launched a state-of-the-art orange robotic vehicle equipped with imaging sensors during a 2019 expedition to collect geophysical data to support the imagery.
It mapped an area of the seabed at the front of a glacier the size of Houston. It collected the most pitiful images of the glacier during an unusual summer marked by a lack of sea ice. This allowed scientists to enter the front of the glacier for the first time in history.
“The images collected by RAN provide important insights into the processes taking place in the critical space between the glacier and the ocean today,” Graham said. So they can more accurately account for features such as crevasses in the glacier.
‘But the ice closed in on us so quickly that we had to turn back before we reached the crevasses on this expedition.’ He added. According to the United Nations, only about 40 percent of humans live within 60 miles of the coast. This study is part of a cross-disciplinary collaborative effort to better understand Thwaites Glacier. Tom Fraser, dean of USF’s College of Marine Science, said the study was published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
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