The glacier is the size of US state Florida and considered the most dangerous in the world given its huge impact on the rise of sea levels. According to an alarming investigation by NASA, the block of ice is disintegrating. The report revealed that a cavity currently 40 square kilometres long and 300 metres deep is growing at the bottom of the glacier in West Antarctica.
Scientists highlighted that in order to calculate how fast the global sea levels will rise as an answer to global warming, detailed observations of the lower parts of Antarctic glaciers is paramount. However, NASA experts were only expecting to find a few ice gaps between ice and bedrock at Thwaites' bottomwhere ocean water could flow in and melt the glacier from below. Naturally, they were surprised by the size of the hole and sounded the alarm.
The cavity is big enough to have contained up to 14 billion tons of ice, most of which has melted in the course of the last three years.
Thanks to an ice-penetrating radar in NASA's Operation IceBridge, the cavity was revealed. The campaign began in 2010 and it studies connections between the polar regions and the global climate. These very high-resolution data –processed by a technique called radar interferometry– reveal how the ground surface below has moved between images.
The interest on Thwaites Glacier is nothing new, it is one of the big mysteries of Antarctica. The U.S. National Science Foundation and British National Environmental Research Council are mounting a five-year field project to give an answer to the most critical questions about its processes and features.
Thwaites Glacier is responsible for the rise of approximately 4% of the sea levels, which could raise the world ocean a little over 65 centimetres. Moreover, it backstops neighbouring glaciers that would raise sea levels an additional 2.4 metres if all the ice were to melt.
Translator: Camila Ledo