EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Strong ocean melting feedback during the recent retreat of Thwaites Glacier

Paul Holland1, Suzanne Bevan2, and Adrian Luckman2
Paul Holland et al.
  • 1British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, United Kingdom (
  • 2Swansea University, Swansea, UK

The accelerating ice loss from Thwaites Glacier is making a substantial contribution to global sea-level rise, and could add tens of centimetres to sea level over the coming centuries. This ice loss is associated with rapid thinning and disintegration of the floating sections of Thwaites Glacier, and retreat of its grounding line. In this study, we use a high-resolution ocean model and a series of Digital Elevation Models of the floating part of Thwaites Glacier from 2011 to 2022 to simulate the evolution of sub-ice melting during this rapid retreat.

The results show that the ice evolution induces a strong geometrical feedback onto melting. The ice thinning and retreat provide a larger melting area, thicker and better-connected sub-ice water column, and steeper ice base. This leads to stronger sub-ice ocean currents, increasing melting by ~50% without any change in forcing from wider ocean conditions. This geometrical feedback over just 12 years is stronger than the melting changes expected from century-scale changes in ocean conditions and subglacial meltwater input. The strength of this feedback implies that greenhouse gas emissions policy may have a very weak influence over future ocean-driven ice loss from Thwaites Glacier.

How to cite: Holland, P., Bevan, S., and Luckman, A.: Strong ocean melting feedback during the recent retreat of Thwaites Glacier, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-8124,, 2023.