They found that at some point in the past two centuries, the glacier floor was sloughing off the ocean floor and retreating at a rate of 2.1 km per year. That’s twice his rate that scientists have observed in the last decade or so.
Its rapid collapse may have occurred “until the mid-20th century,” said Alastair Graham, lead author of the study and a marine geophysicist at the University of South Florida, in a news release.
That suggests that Thwaites has the ability to experience rapid retreat in the near future once it retreats past the submarine ridges that help keep it in check.
“Thwaites is now held firmly by its fingernails. As the glacier retreats beyond its shallow ridges, we should expect to see major changes on small timescales in the future.” Even from one year to the next,” said Robert. Larter, a marine geophysicist and one of his co-authors of the British Antarctic Survey, said in a release:
Thwaites Glacier, located in western Antarctica, is one of the widest glaciers on Earth and larger than the state of Florida. But this is just part of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which holds enough ice to raise sea levels by up to 16 feet, according to NASA.
As the climate crisis accelerates, the region has been closely monitored due to the potential for rapid melting and widespread coastal destruction.
Thwaites Glacier itself has puzzled scientists for decades. As early as 1973, researchers questioned whether it was at high risk of collapse. Nearly a decade later, they discovered that warm ocean currents can melt glaciers from below and destabilize them from below, because glaciers are grounded to the ocean floor rather than dry land.
In the 21st century, researchers began documenting Thwaite’s rapid decline in a series of startling studies.
“Satellite data show that these large cracks extend across the surface of the ice shelf, essentially weakening the ice structure, like cracks in a windshield,” said an oceanographer from the British Antarctic Survey. said Peter Davis. His CNN in 2021.
Monday’s findings suggesting Thwaites can retreat at a much faster pace than recently thought were documented in a 20-hour mission in extreme conditions that mapped an underwater area the size of Houston, according to a news release. it was done.
Graham said the survey was “truly a once-in-a-lifetime mission,” but the team would soon return to collect samples from the seafloor so they could determine when earlier rapid retreats occurred. This could help scientists predict future changes to the ‘apocalyptic glacier’. In the past, scientists assumed that change would be slow, but Graham says the study disproves it.
“A little kick to Thwaites can lead to a big repercussion,” Graham said.