A massive cavity that is two-thirds the size of Manhattan and nearly the height of the Chrysler Building is growing at the bottom of the disintegrating Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica. This “disturbing” discovery is big enough to contain 14 billion tons of ice, most of which has melted over the last three years.
Thwaites Glacier, one of the hardest places to reach on Earth, is responsible for around 4% of the global sea rise. Scientists had long predicted the glacier was not tightly attached to the bedrock underneath it and expected to find some gaps.
Yet the immense size and fast-moving growth rate of the hole in Thwaites was called both “disturbing” and “surprising” by researchers.
“[The size of] a cavity under a glacier plays an important role in melting,” the study’s lead author, Pietro Milillo, said. “As more heat and water get under the glacier, it melts faster.”
Researchers hope the new findings will help others preparing for fieldwork in the area better understand the ice-ocean interactions.
“The findings highlight the need for detailed observations of Antarctic glaciers’ undersides in calculating how fast global sea levels will rise in response to climate change,” according to the study by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Thwaites holds enough ice to raise the world ocean just over 2 feet and backstops neighboring glaciers that are capable of rising sea levels an additional 8 feet if all ice were lost.
Well, it seems that millions of years before the ground trembled under the footfalls of T. rex, an iguana-size “lizard king” was living in Antarctica, when it was bursting with plant and animal life. Soon it will lurk its head out of its home, the giant cavity!