Glaciers in the Antarctic are more prone to changes in sea temperatures than previous research suggested.
That’s according to a study on the Thwaites Glacier by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), claiming that it is melting much quicker than prior estimations in cracks and crevasses.
Thwaites is close to the size of the UK and the scientists believe that if it was to melt entirely, global sea levels would rise by half a metre.
Its grounding zone – which is where it meets the seafloor – has shrunk by 14km since the late 1990s.
This has seen much of the ice sheets fall below sea level, which can make the process of melting even quicker.
Dr Peter Davis from BAS explained: “If an ice shelf and a glacier is in balance, the ice coming off the continent will match the amount of ice being lost through melting and iceberg calving. What we have found is that despite small amounts of melting there is still rapid glacier retreat, so it seems that it doesn’t take a lot to push the glacier out of balance.”
In essence, the glacier is fighting against sea temperatures to prevent melting.
Professor Britney Schmidt from Cornell University, who was a lead author on the study, added: “Basically, the warm water is getting into the weak spots and making them even weaker. What this allows us to do now is to put this kind of information into our predictive models to understand how the ice shelf is going to break down and when.”
These findings are going to be used to understand the damage climate change is doing to other glaciers around the world and drive a rethink in how to tackle the true scale of the problem.