Thwaites Glacier on the edge of West Antarctica is one of the planet’s fastest-moving glaciers. Research shows that it is sliding unstoppably into the ocean, mainly due to warmer seawater lapping at its underside.
But the details of its collapse remain uncertain. The details are necessary to provide a timeline for when to expect 2 feet of global sea level rise, and when this glacier’s loss will help destabilize the much larger West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Recent efforts have used satellites to map the underlying terrain, which affects how quickly the ice mass will move, and measure the glacier’s thickness and speed to understand the physics of its changes.
Researchers at the University of Washington — including Earth and Space Sciences‘ Ben Smith, Alexander Huth and Ian Joughin — and the University of Edinburgh used data from the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 to identify a sudden drainage of large pools below Thwaites Glacier, one of two fast-moving glaciers at the edge of the ice sheet. The study published Feb. 8 in The Cryosphere finds four interconnected lakes drained in the eight months from June 2013 and January 2014. The glacier sped up by about 10 percent during that time, showing that the glacier’s long-term movement is fairly oblivious to trickles at its underside.Read more at UW Today »