(ORDO NEWS) — The front of the glaciers in Antarctica are being eroded by melting, creating icebergs. These events can have dramatic consequences.
Not only are large chunks of ice free to move and reach lower latitudes, this process can also set off powerful “internal tsunamis” that reshape the ocean.
Internal tsunamis are a recent discovery by scientists. They are invisible, that is, they do not create massive wave fronts, but they can still move a significant amount of water at depth. These tsunamis can occur in oceans and lakes, although they will not be visible on the surface.
The team’s latest study was carried out aboard the British research vessel RRS James Clark Ross. Scientists explored the ocean near the William Glacier and witnessed how the entire front of the glacier shattered into a thousand pieces.
The height of the front of the glacier reached 40 meters above sea level, and the area of the breakaway ice was 78,000 square meters, or about 10 football fields. It may seem insignificant, but it caused an internal tsunami with underwater waves as high as a multi-storey building.
“It was a wonderful sight and we were lucky to be in the right place at the right time.
Many glaciers end in the sea, and their remnants regularly break into icebergs.
This can create large waves on the surface, but we now know that it also creates waves in the ocean.
When they break, these internal waves cause the sea to stir, and this affects life in the sea, how warm it is at different depths, and how much ice it can melt,” said study lead author Professor Michael Meredith.
The mixing of the oceans is a key process for distributing nutrients across vast bodies of water.
It was previously thought that this was mainly caused by wind and tides, but this work suggests that iceberg spalling causing internal tsunamis also plays a role in mixing.
The team measured ocean temperatures and found that the tsunami evened out temperatures at different depths.
“This shows how much more we need to learn about these remote environments and how important they are to our planet,” Professor Meredith said.
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