Is the pinning point of the Thwaites glacier subject to release, and what does this mean for future shelf disintegration?

Hi John,

Great question!

A 2021 study on the Thwaites glacier by Wild et al. suggests that the Thwaites pinning point will detach from the sea bed and reach floatation within the next decade, which has some serious implications for the Eastern Ice Shelf, and in turn, the whole Thwaites Glacier. They suggest that the unpinning of the Eastern Ice shelf will be followed by breakup of the shelf, similar to that of the Western Glacier Tongue in 2009. This is likely to increase Ice discharge along a 45 km stretch of the grounding line. Once detached from the seabed at the pinning point, warm water will be able to circulate under the ice shelf and towards the grounding line, where the glacier will be melted from where it meets the rock. Therefore, the unpinning of the Thwaites Glacier is likely to cause rapid retreat and ice shelf destabilisation.

I hope this helps.



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