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Scientists get a close-up look beneath a troubling Ice Shelf in Antarctica

16.02.2023 08:06 AM
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Scientists get a close-up look beneath a troubling Ice Shelf in Antarctica
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New data and images show that a rapidly warming ocean could cut off the bottom of some of Earth's largest glaciers, making the ice more prone to fracturing and ultimately increasing the risk of a dramatic rise in sea level.
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New data and images show that a rapidly warming ocean could cut off the bottom of some of Earth's largest glaciers, making the ice more prone to fracturing and ultimately increasing the risk of a dramatic rise in sea level.

The findings of a team of more than two dozen scientists, published in two papers in the journal Nature, reveal the extent to which human-caused warming could destabilize glaciers in West Antarctica that could raise global sea levels by 10%. feet in the event of disintegration over the coming centuries, according to a report by the "Washington Post".

Scientists with the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, a landmark scientific collaboration organized by the US and UK, reached one of the safest sites in the giant West Antarctic in 2019 and 2020 where they used hot water to drill into nearly 2,000 feet of ice.

A robot in the shape of a pen
In an area known as the Eastern Ice Shelf, they deployed a sensor at the base of the floating ice shelf and sent an 11-foot pen-shaped "robot" called Icefin.

The ship collected data and images in an environment where warm ocean waters are weakening, with temperatures in some places more than 2 degrees Celsius above the freezing point of the glacier.

Their most important finding is that the ice is melting very unevenly, with relatively slow loss in the flat areas on the lower side of the glacier.

Dangerous development
 
 They explained that warm water entering the crevasses of Thwaites Glacier poses a serious threat, according to Brittney Schmidt, a Cornell University scientist who is the principal investigator behind Icefin along with a group of 12 other researchers who descended on the ice.

"The warm water is penetrating into the weak spots of the glacier, which kind of makes things worse," Schmidt said. "It doesn't have to be like this, this is not what the system would look like if it wasn't forced by climate change," she added.

In addition, a video clip from the robot showed a dark underside of the ice due to the freezing of the seafloor mud and sediments in it. Next, the robot observed sand and gravel falling from the ice as it melted.

Inside the crevasses and terraces, the robot captured video of zigzag side walls resembling a coffered ceiling.

Technical achievement
 
 "The technical feat of getting this incredible range of data in a very challenging environment, and getting out safely, is amazing," said Richard Alley, a Penn State glaciologist who was not directly involved in the research.

The unique data and images come from what is arguably the most important ocean-facing glacier.

Thwaites Glacier lies about 80 miles away and is the exit point for an ice pack larger than the US state of Florida, essentially the heart of West Antarctica
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