By Ian Randall For Mailonline
Published: 00:00 BST, 9 September 2020 | Updated: 00:20 BST, 9 September 2020
Channels carrying warm water along the Antarctic seabed are the 'critical link' between the ocean and the base of the melting Thwaites Glacier, two studies found.
Covering roughly the same area as Great Britain — some 74,000 square miles — the Thwaites Glacier is particularly sensitive to climatic and oceanic shifts.
Teams of researchers from the UK and the US studied the glacier and its adjoining ice shelves in early 2019 — one from the air, the other from an icebreaker vessel.
The complementary approaches let them to map out the topography of the seafloor in front of and beneath the retreating glacier to understand the melting process.
This, in turn, will help researchers better predict the impact the melting of the glacier will have on global sea level rise in the future.
Channels carrying warm water along the Antarctic seabed are the 'critical link' between the ocean and the base of the melting Thwaites Glacier, pictured, two studies have found
'It was fantastic to be able to map the channels and cavity system hidden beneath the ice shelf,' said aero-geophysicist and airborne survey leader Tom Jordan of the British Antarctic Survey.
'They are deeper than expected – some are more than 800 metres deep. They form the critical link between the ocean and the glacier.'
'The offshore channels, along with the adjacent cavity system, are very likely to be the route by which warm ocean water passes underneath the ice shelf up to the grounding line, where the ice meets the bed.'
In the last three decades, the rate of ice loss from the Thwaites glacier and its neighbours is estimated to have increased more than five-fold.
Researchers believe that loss from the glacier into the Antarctic's Amundsen Sea is to account for around 4 per cent of post-industrial global sea-level rise.
Furthermore, experts predict that a runaway collapse of the glacier would have the potential to raise sea levels by around 25 inches (65 centimetres) — and understand the way the glacier melts could help researchers put a time-frame on this.
'Flying over the recently-collapsed ice tongue and being able to see first-hand the changes occurring at Thwaites Glacier was both awe inspiring and disconcerting,' said paper author and climate expert Dave Porter of