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Subglacial water system under West Antarctica glacier mapped

Last Updated: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 - 12:50

Washington: Scientists have used an innovation in radar analysis to map the subglacial water system under West Antarctica`s Thwaites Glacier.

Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin`s Institute for Geophysics detected a swamp-like canal system beneath the ice, which is several times as large as Florida`s Everglades.

The findings use new observational techniques to address long-standing questions about subglacial water under Thwaites, a Florida-sized outlet glacier in the Amundsen Sea Embayment considered a key factor in projections of global sea level rise.

On its own, Thwaites contains enough fresh water to raise oceans by about a meter, and it is a critical gateway to the majority of West Antarctica`s potential sea level contribution of about 5 meters.

The new observations suggest the dynamics of the subglacial water system may be as important as well recognized ocean influences in predicting the fate of Thwaites Glacier.

Using an innovation in airborne ice-penetrating radar analysis developed by lead author Dusty Schroeder, a doctoral candidate at the Institute for Geophysics, the Texas team shows that Thwaites` subglacial water system consists of a swamp-like canal system several times as large as Florida`s Everglades lying under the deep interior of the ice sheet, shifting to a series of mainly stream-like channels downstream as the glacier approaches the ocean.

Schroeder said that looking from side angles, they found that distributed patches of water had a radar signature that was reliably distinct from stream-like channels.

He compared the radar signature to light glinting off the surface of many small interconnected ponds when viewed out of an airplane window.


First Published: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 - 12:49
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