Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey have warned of new deep seabed channels in Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier that could lead to its collapse

It’s often referred to the ‘Doomsday Glacier’, and now researchers have warned of new deep seabed channels in Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier.

The channels may be a pathway for warm water to melt the glacier from below – and the results could be catastrophic.

Dr Tom Jordan, an aero-geophysicist at British Antarctic Survey (BAS), who led the project, said: “It was fantastic to be able to map the channels and cavity system hidden beneath the ice shelf; 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.”

Thwaites Glacier covers 754,000 square miles – roughly the same size as the UK – and is particularly susceptible to climate and ocean changes.

Worryingly, if the glacier collapses, it could lead a significants increase in sea levels of around 65cm.

An analysis of the sea floor below the glacier revealed more channels leading towards the grounding line under the ice shelf than was previously thought.

Dr Kelly Hogan, lead author of the study, explained: “We found the coastal sea floor, which is incredibly rugged, is a really good analogue for the bed beneath the present-day Thwaites Glacier both in terms of its shape and rock type.

“By examining retreat patterns over this sea-floor terrain we will be able to help numerical modellers and glaciologists in their quest to predict future retreat.

“This research has filled a critical data gap. Together the new coastal sea floor maps and the cavity maps track the deep channels for over 100 km to where the glacier sits on the bed. 

“For the first time we have  a clear view of the pathways along which warm water can reach the underside of the glacier, causing it to melt and contribute to global sea-level rise.”


Glacier, Thwaites Glacier, Antarctica, Nathaniel B. Palmer, Ice, British Antarctic Survey

World news – GB – ‘Doomsday Glacier’ found to contain deep channels that could melt it from below

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