Radar analysis: researchers find giant cavity in Antarctic glacier

Radar analysis: researchers find giant cavity in Antarctic glacier

Researchers say a massive cavity the size of two-thirds of Manhattan was found under a glacier in Antarctica.

The hole takes up two-thirds of the area of Manhattan and is nearly 300 meters high: The Thwaites glacier in Western Antarctica, researchers at the American space Agency Nasa have found a huge cavity. Thwaites has enough ice that if it all melted, global sea levels would rise a little more than two feet.

Scientists thought there might be some gaps between Thwaites Glacier and the bedrock below it, where ocean water could flow in and melt the icy glacier above it. West Antarctica, home to some of the fastest-flowing and fastest-melting glaciers, accounts for the bulk of the loss calculated in the new work.

Researchers say there is an alarmingly large hole underneath Thwaites Glacier, shown here, in Antarctica.

Scientists spotted the concealed void thanks to a new generation of satellites, Rignot noted.

Researchers discovered the cavity using ice-penetrating radar in Nasa's Operation IceBridge, an airborne survey launched in 2010 to study polar ice.

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"[The size of] a cavity under a glacier plays an important role in melting", lead author Pietro Milillo, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement.

'As more heat and water get under the glacier, it melts faster'. With climate change likely to continue accelerating this melt, the implications for global sea level rise are considerable.

The Thwaites glacier is slightly smaller than the total size of the United Kingdom, approximately the same size as the state of Washington, and is located in the Amundsen Sea. Instead, it could potentially spell doom for not just Manhattan but other coastal areas by speeding along the destruction of Thwaites, pushing more land ice into the sea. The collaboration includes the U.S. National Science Foundation and British National Environmental Research Council.

NASA said the cavity is "one of several disturbing discoveries" made about the Thwaites Glacier-a 100 mile wide river of ice that is disintegrating and will one day collapse.

"We are discovering different mechanisms of retreat", Milillo said. It could also lead to melting in neighboring glaciers that could add another 8 feet to sea levels if they completely melted, JPL said.

The glacier has been coming unstuck from a ridge in the bedrock at a steady rate of about 0.6 to 0.8 kilometers a year since 1992. The fastest retreat of floating ice is about a half mile a year with various areas thinning at up to 650 feet per year.

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