Scientists snap first-ever images of "notorious" Antarctic glacier

James Marshall
February 3, 2020

The discovery was made at the glacier's grounding zone-the place at which the ice transitions between resting fully on bedrock and floating on the ocean as an ice shelf and which is key to the overall rate of retreat of a glacier. This device gauges the turbulence of the water as well as other properties such as temperature. The result of turbulence is the mixing of fresh meltwater from the glacier and salty water from the ocean.

Last January, a massive cavity the size of two-thirds of Manhattan was found under the glacier, a sign of "rapid decay".

As part of the project, Icefin swam more than 15 kilometers to and fro during five missions, including two passes to the ground zone - one where it came extremely close to where the seabed meets the ice.

"We saw incredible ice interactions driven by sediments at the line and from the rapid melting from warm ocean water", Schmidt said.

Icefin measured, imaged and mapped the process causing melting at this critical part of the glacier.

The icy "ceiling" seen in the video is the bottom of the glacier's ice shelf. This section floats in the water as opposed to being nestled on the seafloor.

Melting of Thwaites is cause for global concern as its sheer enormity means that it contains enough ice that, if it was to melt, there would be worldwide implications.

According to the researchers, including the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US, Thwaites accounts for around four percent of the global sea level rise, raising concerns that a turning point in stability could result in a glacier collapse and raise sea levels by no less than 25 inches.

Scientists claim to have photographed the foothills of the Antarctic glacier "Thwaites" for the first time. This allowed them to drop down a robot, Icefin, to capture eerie footage of Thwaites' critical grounding zone.

"We designed Icefin so that there was finally access to glacier grounding zones where observations were nearly impossible, but where change was rapid", said Britney Schmidt, senior scientist for Icefin and associate professor at the School of Earth in Georgia Tech and atmospheric science said in a statement.

"We designed Icefin to be able to access the grounding zones of glaciers, places where observations have been almost impossible, but where rapid change is taking place", Britney Schmidt, Icefin's lead scientist, said in a statement. This is known to be an unstable configuration for a glacier because as the ocean continues to eat away at its base, the glacier becomes thicker, so more ice is exposed to the ocean. "This new data will provide a new perspective of the processes taking place, so we can predict future change with more certainty", said Keith Nicholls, an oceanographer from the British Antarctic Survey.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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