Thwaites Glacier GHC

The basics. Thwaites GHC ("Geological History Constraints") is the portion of the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration that aims to learn about past changes in the size and extent of the Thwaites Glacier - Pine Island Glacier system in West Antarctica and their relationship to changes in sea level. It includes geologists, geochemists, and students from universities and research institutes in the US and UK.


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More details. This project will use geological mapping, subglacial bedrock recovery drilling, and geochronology to reconstruct changes in the size and extent of the Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers that took place in the past several hundred to several thousand years. In particular, we are focusing on the possibility that these glaciers were smaller than present in the last several thousand years, and subsequently grew to their present size. This is important in understanding the rapid shrinkage of these glaciers that is taking place now: we aim to learn about whether this process is unprecedented, irreversible, and likely to lead to a significant transfer of water from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet to the ocean, or, alternatively, whether glacier fluctuations like we observe now have happened repeatedly in the past without irreversible consequences. The primary method we will use to achieve this is to recover bedrock from beneath the glaciers using a subglacial bedrock coring drill developed by the US Ice Drilling Program, and then use geochemical dating methods to determine whether these bedrock samples were exposed at the surface by glacier retreat in the past, and, if so, when. We will also find and date marine deposits in coastal areas near these glaciers as a means of reconstructing past sea level change and determining the relationship between glacier and sea level changes. 

This project originated with a proposal to the US National Science Foundation and UK Natural Environment Research Council. The project description from the proposal is here

When and where. On-land field operations for this project will take place in coastal areas of the Thwaites and Pine Island Glaciers in West Antarctica during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 austral summers. Marine operations will use the RVIB Nathaniel B. Palmer during early 2019.