Antarctica is known for its ice but beneath that icy sheet, there is a fire as well in the form of subglacial volcanoes. A new study reflected that the melting of Antarctic Glaciers is not only due to climate change, but also due to the subglacial volcanoes and other geothermal “hotspots”. Previously which was believed that the Western Antarctic Glaciers have been melting due to the change in climate, this study on Western Antarctic completely changes our understanding of conditions beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.
The Thwaites Glacier was recently in the news due to its rapid melting under the effect of oceanic erosion and climate change. It was discovered by Researchers at the Institute for Geophysics and The University of Texas at Austin (UTIG), that the Thwaites Glacier in the Western Antarctic is not only being eroded by the ocean, but by geothermal heat beneath the Earth surface. Areas of the glacier that sit near geologic features thought to be volcanic are melting faster than regions farther away from hotspots, said Dustin Schroeder, the study’s lead author and a geophysicist at the University of Texas at Austin.
Many Researchers have forecasted that the Thwaites Glacier is on the verge of collapse. However, Scientists at the University of Texas at Austin (UTIG) said in a statement that, “more data and computer modeling are needed to determine when the collapse will begin in earnest and at what rate the sea level will increase as it proceeds.” The UTIG researchers were able to identify significant sources of geothermal heat under the glacier using ice-penetrating airborne radar techniques, which are distributed over a large area.
Conclusion of the research was that minimum average geothermal heat flow underneath Thwaites Glacier is as high as 100 milliwatts per square meter, with hotspots over 200 milliwatts per square meter. This is extremely high compared to normal areas across the world that is around 65 milliwatts per square meter.
“It’s the most complex thermal environment you might imagine…And then you plop the most critical dynamically unstable ice sheet on planet Earth in the middle of this thing, and then you try to model it. It’s virtually impossible,” Don Blankenship, UTIG scientist says. Currently, most ice models are based on the assumption that geothermal heat is spread out evenly, but with this new study researchers have found that the geothermal heat is not spread out evenly and that different regions receive different intensities of heat.