In the words of NASA, "several disturbing revelations" are made from their research study of the colossal Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica. At the top of the usual story of ice cleaning, they found a gigantic cavity – perhaps the size of the Eiffel Tower – growing at the bottom of the huge glacier.
Thwaites Glacier, roughly the size of Florida, once contained over 14 billion tons of frozen water, enough to raise the world's sea level by more than 2 feet (65 centimeters). However, the vast quantities of this colossal ice cube have melted over the past three years as a result of climate change, contributing about 4 percent of global sea-level rise.
As reported in the magazine Progress in science, the researchers got a clearer picture of the glacier's plight. Their findings show Thwaites Glacier suffers from extensive purification of ice, distancing and decaying, as well as a hole of 300 meters (1,000 meters) inside its western wing that grows at an "explosive" rate.
"[The size of] the cavity below the glacier plays an important role in melting, "said study leader Pythur Milillo, from the JPL Propulsion Lab, statement. "As more heat and water are below the glacier, it melts faster."
The NASA team studied the glacier with the help of satellites and specialized jets armed with an ice-breaking radar to provide researchers with high-resolution data to constantly change the shape and size of the glacier. These data also cast a little light on another concern about the glacier grounding line, the point where the glacier begins to move away from the land and sail at sea. The study found that the Thwaites Glacier is peeling off the substrate below it, which means that more than the glacier's surface is exposed to water warming. In turn, this makes the glacier still susceptible to melting.
"For years we have been suspected that the Thwaites are not firmly attached to the foundation under it," said Eric Rigot of the University of California, Irvine, and JPL to NASA. "Thanks to the new generation of satellites, we can finally see the details."
Thwaites Glacier plays an instrumental role in the story of rising sea levels and climate change, so that there never again was a desire to study and understand. Just this week, a ship with an ice cruiser left Chile to launch a Thwaites Glacier scientific expedition with the help of a number of other ships, explorers, planes and marked wild seals.
"Understanding the details of how the ocean melts from this glacier is essential to project its impact on sea-level rise in the coming decades," added Rignot.