Heterogeneous melting near the Thwaites Glacier grounding line

Thwaites Glacier represents 15% of the ice discharge from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and influences a wider catchment. Because it is grounded below sea level, Thwaites Glacier is thought to be susceptible to runaway retreat triggered at the grounding line (GL) at which the glacier reaches the ocean. Recent ice-flow acceleration2,8 and retreat of the ice front and GL indicate that ice loss will continue. The relative impacts of mechanisms underlying recent retreat are however uncertain. Here we show sustained GL retreat from at least 2011 to 2020 and resolve mechanisms of ice-shelf melt at the submetre scale. Our conclusions are based on observations of the Thwaites Eastern Ice Shelf (TEIS) from an underwater vehicle, extending from the GL to 3 km oceanward and from the ice–ocean interface to the sea floor. These observations show a rough ice base above a sea floor sloping upward towards the GL and an ocean cavity in which the warmest water exceeds 2 °C above freezing. Data closest to the ice base show that enhanced melting occurs along sloped surfaces that initiate near the GL and evolve into steep-sided terraces. This pronounced melting along steep ice faces, including in crevasses, produces stratification that suppresses melt along flat interfaces. These data imply that slope-dependent melting sculpts the ice base and acts as an important response to ocean warming.


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Authors: Schmidt, B. E., Washam, P., Davis, P.E.D. ORCIDORCID record for P.E.D. Davis, Nicholls, K.W. ORCIDORCID record for K.W. Nicholls, Holland, D.M., Lawrence, J.D., Riverman, K.L., Smith, J.A. ORCIDORCID record for J.A. Smith, Spears, A., Dichek, D.J.G., Mullen, A. D., Clyne, E., Yeager, B., Anker, P. ORCIDORCID record for P. Anker, Meister, M.R., Hurwitz, B.C., Quartini, E.S., Bryson, F. E., Basinski-Ferris, A., Thomas, C., Wake, J., Vaughan, D.G. ORCIDORCID record for D.G. Vaughan, Anandakrishnan, S., Rignot, E., Paden, J., Makinson, K. ORCIDORCID record for K. Makinson

On this site: Catrin Thomas, David Vaughan, James Smith, James Wake, Keith Makinson, Keith Nicholls, Paul Anker, Peter Davis, Catrin Thomas
16 February, 2023
Nature / 614
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