The Antarctic Thwaites glacier is notoriously infamous for its contribution to the rising sea level. It accounts for about four per cent of the global rise. Scientists have been trying to get a closer look for understanding its structure and mechanism. And, they have finally managed to get the first ever images of the glacier. A robotic submarine called Icefin has helped in achieving the feat and the images are expected to help in better monitoring of the ice sheet. By Kumar Shree

The robotic submarine has highlighted a particular area of concern. It can be understood as a boundary at the point where the Antarctic Thwaites glacier either rests on the ocean bed, or breaks away and floats over water. This boundary is vital in studying the stability of the glacier as the more it recedes, it will open way for the ice to flow into the sea, and elevate the sea-level.

Britney Schmidt, a researcher from Georgia Institute of Technology, and a part of the project said, “Visiting the grounding line is one of the reasons work like this is important because we can drive right up to it and actually measure where it is. It’s the first time anyone has done that or has ever seen the grounding zone of a major glacier under the water, and that’s the place where the greatest degree of melting and destabilisation can occur.”

Icefin took round trips of 15 kilometers during two mission. Scientists from around the world are working to derive data and conclusions from the accumulated results. Researchers have also concluded that the amount of ice flowing from the Antarctic Thwaites glacier to the sea has almost doubled in the last 30 years.

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Startling new research from International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (ITGC) confirmed a dire prediction: The water underneath #Antarctica's #ThwaitesGlacier is two degrees above the freezing point.⁠ ⁠ (Get the full Eos.org feature story via our biolink) ⁠ ⁠ “That is really, really bad,” David Holland, a New York University glaciologist and a principal investigator in the ITGC MELT project, told the Washington Post. “That’s not a sustainable situation for that glacier.” ⁠ ⁠ Thwaites already contributes about 4% to the global rate of sea level rise, and that percentage will increase if the #glacier starts collapsing. ⁠ ⁠ Through ITGC, a US-UK research collaboration, researchers are studying the ice, the surrounding ocean and atmosphere, and the bedrock beneath the glacier.⁠ ⁠ "Hopefully ITGC will help us fill in pieces of the puzzle so that we can more accurately describe what could happen in the future to this glacier and to global sea level,” says Holland.⁠ ⁠ Image 1: The Icefin robot recently measured water 2 degrees above the freezing underneath the Thwaites glacier. Credit: Georgia Tech/Britney Schmidt lab⁠ ⁠ Image 2: To study the waters under the glacier required drilling 2,000-feet though the glacier. Via Washington Post, Credit: Jeremy Harbeck/NASA/OIB⁠ ⁠ Image 3: Researchers with the MELT project set up equipment, including an A-frame structure and a winch, to deploy instruments through a borehole in Thwaites at their research site in January 2020. Credit: David Holland⁠ ⁠ Image 4: Key characteristics of Thwaites Glacier as well as drivers of change are illustrated in this schematic. Credit: Scambos et al., 2018, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloplacha.2017.04.008, CC BY 4.0⁠ ⁠ Image 5: Aurora Basinski, a graduate student at New York University, carries a device for deployment through a borehole in Thwaites Glacier in January 2020 as part of the Melting at Thwaites Grounding Zone and Its Control on Sea Level (MELT) project. The instrument will measure water turbulence in the ocean beneath the glacier near its grounding zone. Credit: David Holland⁠ ⁠ #climate #sealevel #sealevelrise #climatechange #climatecrisis #climatescience #science⁠

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Keith Nicholls, an oceanographer from the British Antarctic Survey, said, “We know that warmer ocean waters are eroding many of West Antarctica’s glaciers, but we’re particularly concerned about Thwaites. This new data will provide a new perspective of the processes taking place, so we can predict future change with more certainty.”

We are hoping that the images help scientists in finding ways of tackling the ticking time bomb.

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