Researchers say a massive cavity the size of two-thirds of Manhattan was found under a glacier in Antarctica. That cavity is big enough to hold 14 billion tons of ice or 5.6 million Olympic-sized swimming pools. The bedrock under Thwaites and other glaciers in the region slopes downward further inland, allowing that warm water to rot out the glaciers from underneath.
Yet the vast size and fast-moving growth rate of the hole in Thwaites was called both "disturbing" and "surprising" by researchers.
Scientists spotted the concealed void thanks to a new generation of satellites, Rignot noted.
Rignot and fellow researchers discovered the cavity using ice-penetrating radar as part of NASA's Operation IceBridge, with additional data supplied by German and French scientists. "As more heat and water get under the glacier, it melts faster", said Pietro Milillo of JPL. The Thwaites Glacier is not the easiest place on Earth to reach.
Within each main region of Antarctica (East, West and the Antarctic Peninsula), ice loss has been concentrated in certain sectors over the last 40 years, the new study finds.
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NASA has recently revealed the existence of an unknown yawning cavity, that's placed at the bottom of the Thwaites Glacier. However, huge quantities of this colossal ice cube have melted away over the past three years as a result of climate change, contributing to around 4 percent of global sea level rise. The U.S. National Science Foundation and British National Environmental Research Council are mounting a five-year field project to answer the most critical questions about its processes and features.
Just as a grounded boat can float again when the weight of its cargo is removed, a glacier that loses ice weight can float over land where it used to stick.
"We are discovering different mechanisms of retreat", Milillo said.
A team of researchers discovered that huge space is rapidly forming under West Antarctica, a region that is quite big, on par with nearly 66% of the surface that is occupied by Manhattan. As they are melting and the formation of icebergs, the water will be even greater.
These findings show the complexity of ice-ocean interactions. At the same time the ice melts in the area extremely quickly. It could also lead to melting in neighboring glaciers that could add another 8 feet to sea levels if they completely melted, JPL said.