Melting at Thwaites Grounding Zone and its Control on Sea Level

International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration - MELT

Start date
1 June, 2018
End date
1 June, 2023

MELT is an ice-based project that will use autonomous sensors to monitor the ice column and ocean beneath the ice shelf in the critical area of the grounding line (the point where the glacier goes afloat to become ice shelf). The project will also use repeated airborne radar flights to study the way the ice flows in this area, and seismic surveys to study the ocean floor beneath the ice shelf.

Hot water drilling will be used to make three access holes through the glacier to allow measurements to be made within the ice column and in the underlying water. Icefin, a state-of-the-art remotely-operated vehicle containing instruments such as conductivity-temperature-depth (CTD) sensors, an acoustic Doppler current profiler, a camera, a dissolved oxygen sensor and a multi-beam echosounder will be deployed via the boreholes to examine the waters beneath the ice shelf. Ocean moorings will be used to monitor the ocean conditions for a year or more and ground-based phase-sensitive radar (ApRES) will monitor the basal melt rate.

At present, the influence of these warm waters is not well understood, especially in the key area of the grounding line, and quantifying how ocean conditions affect the melt rate of Thwaites Glacier’s ice shelf will allow the glacier’s potential sea-level contribution to be more accurately predicted.

The main objective of the proposed study is to quantify how the contribution of Thwaites Glacier to sea-level rise depends on the oceanographic conditions near the glacier.

To achieve this, the team will:

  • Collect observations of the rate of ocean-driven melting of Thwaites Glacier using ApRES, together with the ocean conditions beneath the ice using instruments such as Icefin.
  • Collect data on the flow of the ice near the grounding line using airborne radar.
  • Determine the landscape beneath the ice shelf using seismic surveys.

Results from this project will be used to help numerical models more accurately predict the contribution of the Thwaites Glacier to future sea-level rise.




Airborne Remote Sensing

Two of the four BAS Twin Otters are equipped with a full remote sensing capability, providing scientists with data on land, ice and sea. This includes VNIR & SWIR hyperspectral …


Instrument: Phase-sensitive radar (ApRES)

Research teams use phase-sensitive radars for determining ice shelf basal melt rates.  Data is used to enhance climate models. The ApRES instruments yield time series of ice shelf thickness change …