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SCIENTISTS have laid bare the vulnerability of an enormous glacier in Antarctica that scientists say is teetering on the edge of collapse.
Channels carrying warm water along the Antarctic sea bed are thought to be the killer factor driving the glacier’s dramatic demise, new maps show.
Thwaites glacier is larger the England and could drive global sea levels up by two feet (60cm) if it were to totally collapse.
It’s been described as the “Doomsday” glacier because of the deadly impact its melting could have on our planet.
It’s thought that a sea level rise of two feet would swamp coastal towns and cities, turfing millions across the globe from their homes.
Now researchers think they’ve unearthed the “critical link” between the ocean and the base of the melting glacier.
Surveys carried out by British and US researchers show that warm water melting the glacier from below gets there via ocean channels.
“These channels had not been mapped before in this kind of detail,” Dr Kelly Hogan from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) told BBC News.
“What we’ve discovered is that they’re actually much bigger than anyone thought – up to 600m deep. Think of six football pitches back to back.”
She added: “Because they are so deep, and so wide – this allows a lot more water to get at, and melt, Thwaites’ floating front as well as its ice that rests on the seabed.”
Thwaites, which flows into Antarctica’s Pine Island Bay, is already losing eight times as much ice a year as it was in the late 1990s.
It dumps 80billions of tonnes of ice into the ocean every year, heavily contributing to global sea level rises.
Scientists think we could see a total collapse of the glacier within the next century, and are scrambling to better understand how to save it.
As part of two new studies into the glacier, teams of US and UK scientists scanned Thwaites from above and below.
One group mapped the ice sheet from the air, while another used an icebreaker vessel equipped with an echo-locator.
Their maps reveal a series of channels deep beneath the ice shelf that join up to form a major cavity.
Scientists think this cavity is a major cause of the ice loss seen at the glacier.
“The connected channels that we’ve mapped are the potential pathways for deep-ocean warm water to get in and do damage,” BAS’s Dr Tom Jordan said.
He added that the channels “also melt the base of the ice shelf, which if you weaken will make the ice further upstream in the glacier flow faster.”
Scientists will use the new data to create models that can help them to better predict the glacier’s behaviour in future.
It’s thought that rapidly warming temperatures caused by climate change are responsible for the vulnerable glacier’s troubles.
And, experts think melting Antarctic ice could cause areas of the ocean to turn a “deep green” colour by 2100.
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Glacier, Thwaites Glacier, Antarctica, British Antarctic Survey, Ice shelf
World news – US – Weakness in doomsday glacier bigger than ENGLAND could send sea levels up 2ft