Research ArticleGEOLOGY

Heterogeneous retreat and ice melt of Thwaites Glacier, West Antarctica

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Science Advances  30 Jan 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 1, eaau3433
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aau3433


The glaciers flowing into the Amundsen Sea Embayment, West Antarctica, have undergone acceleration and grounding line retreat over the past few decades that may yield an irreversible mass loss. Using a constellation of satellites, we detect the evolution of ice velocity, ice thinning, and grounding line retreat of Thwaites Glacier from 1992 to 2017. The results reveal a complex pattern of retreat and ice melt, with sectors retreating at 0.8 km/year and floating ice melting at 200 m/year, while others retreat at 0.3 km/year with ice melting 10 times slower. We interpret the results in terms of buoyancy/slope-driven seawater intrusion along preferential channels at tidal frequencies leading to more efficient melt in newly formed cavities. Such complexities in ice-ocean interaction are not currently represented in coupled ice sheet/ocean models.

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