British Antarctic Survey researchers have conducted a new study published in the journal Science Advances, to map the terrain beneath the Thwaites Glacier. In their analysis, the scientists used aerial surveys carried out with radar-equipped aircraft, which can see through the ice, and the most sophisticated equipment to discover even the slightest variations in gravity and magnetism thousands of meters underground In this way, the experts managed to compile a 3D image of the surface on which the Thwaites Glacier rests, discovering something alarming.
Under immense layers of frost, in fact, there is much less sedimentary rock than expected. The new information obtained about the sedimentary rock lying beneath the glacier can greatly improve estimates of flow and melt not only for Thwaites, but for other Antarctic regions as well.
In the future, therefore, there will be more reliable models for keeping the effects of global warming under control.
Researchers concerned for what they discovered under the Thwaites Glacier
Dr Tom Jordan, a British Antarctic Survey geophysicist who led the research, explained: "The sediments allow for a faster flow, as if you were sliding over mud.
Now that we have a map of where these sediments are located, we can better predict how the glacier will behave in the future when it retreats. The ongoing rapid retreat is one of the major uncertainties about sea level rise." Thwaites Glacier is a large ice shelf that flows into Pine Island Bay, which discharges its waters into the Amundsen Sea.
Its dimensions are incredible. It is roughly the size of Great Britain, and is one of the most endangered icebergs in the whole region. Its landfill zone, or where the ice meets the seabed, has retreated a whopping 14 km since the late 1990s, a process that has accelerated significantly due to climate change.
Climate change has greatly influenced the melting of glaciers, which are now under close scrutiny by scientists. In particular, a team of scholars has carried out a detailed mapping of the land below the Thwaites glacier, the most fragile in Antarctica, and what has emerged has surprised everyone.