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Unexpected Terrain Beneath Thwaites Glacier Could Slow Melting


  • Rugged terrain beneath Thwaites could impede melting.

  • Seismic surveys unveil Manhattan-like earth high-rises.

  • Research enhances future sea level rise predictions.

SAN FRANCISCO — Amidst prevailing concerns, a research team has announced a potentially stabilizing discovery underneath Thwaites Glacier—a critical ice mass affecting sea level rise.

Seismic Surveys Reveal Underglacier Topography

A seismic survey has unearthed an uneven landscape beneath Thwaites Glacier, likened to the peaks of Manhattan’s skyscrapers. This rough subglacial terrain might be playing a critical role in hindering the glacier’s descent towards the sea, a process directly linked to the rising global sea levels. Remarkably, this discovery might help in moderating the glacier’s contribution to sea level rise.

How Ice Interacts with Subglacial Features

Thwaites Glacier’s flow into the ocean is partially restrained by a floating ice shelf, previously supported by an underwater mountain. However, the shelf’s degradation has left it unanchored. Despite this, the newly discovered upstream subglacial features could be providing a form of resistance against a rapid seaward flow of the glacier.

Exploring more than 70 kilometers inland of the glacier’s edge, the team used seismic vibrations to map the underbelly of Thwaites. Their survey revealed high rises and sediment blocks, with the upstream side exhibiting more pressure—indicating a likely friction that slows the glacier’s progression.

These geological features, possibly due to tectonic rift systems, function like natural speed bumps, disrupting the smooth flow of glacier ice. The study’s findings are expected to refine simulations of Thwaites Glacier’s future behavior and better predict its impact on sea level rise.

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