Thwaites Glacier melting faster in cracks
New observations from a previously unmapped part of the Thwaites Glacier show that while melting beneath much of the ice shelf is weaker than expected, melting in cracks and crevasses is much faster. These findings provide an important step forward in understanding the glacier’s contribution to future sea-level rise.
The rapid retreat of Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica, also called the “Doomsday Glacier”, appears to be driven by different processes under its floating ice shelf than researchers previously understood. Results show that the present rate of melting is slower than many computer models currently estimate. But the authors were surprised to see the melting had formed stair-case-like topography across the bottom of the ice shelf. In these areas, as well as in cracks in the ice, rapid melting is occurring.
“We now understand that these cracks and crevasses are really intense hotspots of melting, where melting rates are higher than expected”, says Bastien Queste, researcher at the University of Gothenburg, who has contributed to one of the research projects.
It’s important för the researchers to understand not just how much melting is happening, but in what way and where it’s happening. The new data were collected as part of an international research project where the researchers observe the grounding zone, where the ice first meets the ocean, beneath the Thwaites Eastern Ice Shelf in order to understand how the ice and ocean interacts in this critical region. In this project the researchers deployed a robot called “Icefin” through a 600m deep borehole in the glacier.
“The University of Gothenburg's contribution to this study was to provide general oceanographic background data for context previously collected by our autonomous underwater robot Ran,” says Bastien Queste.
This mission forms part of the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (ITGC), a mission coordinated by the U.S.A. and U.K., where Sweden contributes with researchers and research infrastructure, such as the AUV Ran.
More information: www.thwaitesglacier.org