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  • Thwaites glacier. September, 2020.

    Thwaites glacier. September, 2020. | Photo: @JD_Kirkham

Published 9 September 2020
Opinion

The researchers concluded the cavities are over 10,000 years old. They also registered smaller cracks that originated from the principal fissures due to high temperatures in the last decades.

U.K. British Antarctic Survey and a U.S. glaciologist’s team found warm water flows through several cavities in the Thwaites glacier in the Antarctic, provoking ice erosion and the rising of sea levels.

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The British scientists mapped the cavities using a robot submarine and aircraft, while the U.S. team explored the bottom of the ice shelf. They found two fissures of about 10 kilometers across and 800 kilometers in-depth, allowing warm water under the ice.

The researchers concluded the cavities are over 10,000 years old. They also registered smaller cracks that originated from the principal fissures due to high temperatures in the last decades.

 “Before we did these studies, the assumption was that all the channels are the same, but the new ones are much thinner and more dynamic. They will get bigger over time,” said the aerogeophysicist and study lead author Tom Jordan.

The scientists estimate Thwaites would not collapse presently, given the early formation of the ice gaps. However, they believe the cavities are enlarging but in an imprecise speed.

“We are only halfway through the process so these are interim statistics. Intuitively, it would seem that the new thin cavities will let in less warm water so the collapse of the glacier would be slower than previously believed, but that needs to be confirmed. This data should be included in future models,” Jordan added.

Thwaites glacier covers about 192,000 sq km., and it has been responsible for sea-level rise by 4%. Experts estimate that its complete collapse would aggravate the phenomenon adding 65 centimeters to the oceanic water.

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