New paper finds West Antarctic glacier likely melting from geothermal heat below

Via the Hockey Schtick – A paper published today in Earth and Planetary Science Letters finds evidence that one of the largest glaciers in West Antarctica, the Thwaites Glacier, is primarily melting from below due to geothermal heat flux from volcanoes located along the West Antarctic Volcanic Rift System, i.e. not due to man-made CO2.

antarctic-volcano[1]Image from Jo Nova

CAGW proponents have alleged that West Antarctic glaciers such as such as the Thwaites Glacier and the neighboring Pine Island Glacier are rapidly melting due to man-made greenhouse gases and/or ocean heating, despite observations showing the air temperature in the Antarctic hasn’t risen since 1979, Antarctic sea surface temperatures have fallen since 2006, and ARGO ocean heat content of the Southern Ocean shows no increase at any level of the top 2000 meters since the system was put in place in 2004. The authors find the neighboring Pine Island Glacier also overlies the same volcanic rift system and thus may also be melting from geothermal heat below.

The West Antarctic Volcanic Rift System is illustrated by JoNova below, and just so happens to correspond to the areas of notable glacier melt and alleged warming. In contrast, East Antarctica, which holds > 80% of Antarctic ice mass and does not have any known underlying volcanoes, is significantly increasing in ice mass.

The paper joins several others finding geothermal heat largely if not entirely responsible for glacier melt in multiple regions in both Antarctica and Greenland, i.e. not anthropogenic.

Variable crustal thickness beneath Thwaites Glacier revealed from airborne gravimetry, possible implications for geothermal heat flux in West Antarctica

Theresa M. Damiani, Tom A. Jordan, Fausto Ferraccioli, Duncan A. Young, Donald D. Blankenship

The Byrd Subglacial Basin beneath Thwaites Glacier is part of Mesozoic widespread rifting.

Thin crust (18–24 km) exists in eastern Marie Byrd Land and beneath Thwaites Glacier.

Gravity evidence supports hypothesis of warm mantle beneath Marie Byrd Land.

Supports the use of thin crust and higher heat flux values in Western Antarctica.


Thwaites Glacier has one of the largest glacial catchments in West Antarctica. The future stability of Thwaites Glacier’s catchment is of great concern, as this part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has recently been hypothesized to already be en route towards collapse. Although an oceanic trigger is thought to be responsible for current change at the grounding line of Thwaites Glacier, in order to determine the effects of this coastal change further in the interior of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet it is essential to also better constrain basal conditions that control the dynamics of fast glacial flow within the catchment itself. One major contributor to fast glacial flow is the presence of subglacial water, the production of which is a result of both glaciological shear heating and geothermal heat flux. The primary goal of our study is to investigate the crustal thickness beneath Thwaites Glacier, which is an important contributor to regional-scale geothermal heat flux patterns. Crustal structure is an indicator of past tectonic events and hence provides a geophysical proxy for the thermal status of the crust and mantle. Terrain-corrected Bouguer gravity disturbances are used here to estimate depths to the Moho and mid-crustal boundary. The thin continental crust we reveal beneath Thwaites Glacier supports the hypothesis that the West Antarctic Rift System underlies the region and is expressed topographically as the Byrd Subglacial Basin. This rifted crust is of similar thickness to that calculated from airborne gravity data beneath neighboring Pine Island Glacier, and is more extended than crust in the adjacent Siple Coast sector of the Ross Sea Embayment. A zone of thinner crust is also identified near the area’s subaerial volcanoes lending support to a recent interpretation predicting that this part of Marie Byrd Land is a major volcanic dome, likely within the West Antarctic Rift System itself. Near-zero Bouguer gravity disturbances for the subglacial highlands and subaerial volcanoes indicate the absence of supporting crustal roots, suggesting either (1) thermal support from a warm lithosphere or alternatively, and arguably less likely; (2) flexural support of the topography by a cool and rigid lithosphere, or (3) Pratt-like compensation. Although forward modeling of gravity data is non-unique in respect to these alternative possibilities, we prefer the hypothesis that Marie Byrd Land volcanoes are thermally-supported by warmer upper mantle. The presence of such inferred warm upper mantle also suggests regionally elevated geothermal heat flux in this sector of the West Antarctic Rift System and consequently the potential for enhanced meltwater production beneath parts of Thwaites Glacier itself. Our new crustal thickness estimates and geothermal heat flux inferences in the Thwaites Glacier region are significant both for studies of the structure of the broader West Antarctic Rift System and for assessments of geological influences on West Antarctic Ice Sheet dynamics and glacial isostatic adjustment models.


Fig 1 from the paper illustrating West Antarctic region studied in red box


Fig 2. Geothermal heat flux within box in Fig 1.

72 thoughts on “New paper finds West Antarctic glacier likely melting from geothermal heat below

      • On October 2, 2014 at 5:45 am I asked….
        “Does anyone know how much of that ice loss was CAUSED by volcanic activity?”

        Discovery – Jun 9, 2014
        Hidden Volcanoes Melt Antarctic Glaciers from Below
        Antarctica is a land of ice. But dive below the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and you’ll find fire as well, in the form of subglacial volcanoes.
        Now, a new study finds that these subglacial volcanoes and other geothermal “hotspots” are contributing to the melting of Thwaites Glacier, a major river of ice that flows into Antarctica’s Pine Island Bay. 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.


        Evidence for elevated and spatially variable geothermal flux beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet….
        Thwaites Glacier is one of the West Antarctica’s most prominent, rapidly evolving, and potentially unstable contributors to global sea level rise. Uncertainty in the amount and spatial pattern of geothermal flux and melting beneath this glacier is a major limitation in predicting its future behavior and sea level contribution. In this paper, a combination of radar sounding and subglacial water routing is used to show that large areas at the base of Thwaites Glacier are actively melting in response to geothermal flux consistent with rift-associated magma migration and volcanism. This supports the hypothesis that heterogeneous geothermal flux and local magmatic processes could be critical factors in determining the future behavior of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

      • It seems as if whenever we ask, Warmists like to laugh and dismiss our Occam’s Razor style thinking. Maybe glaciologists need to dig deeper into this.

  1. Yeah but…er….the increased volcanic activity is cos of…er….the death trains…or something……
    Can I have a huge grant now please to research this further?
    I’ll title it ” Anthropogenic CO2 induced vulcanism”……
    Good eh?

  2. Just to add to the point, after WWII, the US Military explored the Antarctica from a true scientific view point not one of bragging to be a at the South Pole via sled dog teams. In one of their fly overs with cameras rolling, they filmed a lake somewhere inland that was totally free of ice back in the late 1940s to early 1950s.
    I saw it on TV. So, the documentary is available to the public.

  3. Interesting, geothermal energy is the reason for ice loss in the Antarctic, rather than AGW. Makes sense as the Antarctic continent surface temperatures have cooled slightly rather than warmed.
    And Southern Ocean temperatures have fallen since 2006, which would explain the extra sea ice:
    Colder Southern ocean temperatures for all months of the year explains recorded Antarctic sea ice for all months of the year. Obviously there must be a physical explanation for the cooling of the Southern Ocean. (Solar magnetic cycle changes, not AGW.)
    We should all be concerned if we start to see recorded sea ice in the Arctic. The first step in the process would be a reduction in Northern hemisphere ocean temperatures due to increased cloud cover. 2013 and 2014 there were record cold summers in the Arctic due to increased cloud cover.
    Starting to see increased blue on this graph.

  4. Yet another pillar of alarmist “proof of global warming” comes tumbling down.
    There are similar geothermal systems under the Arctic Ocean, but at great depths. Too deep to directly melt the floating ice above, but sufficient to generate upwellings of saline water to the relatively low saline waters near surface, which in turn means that colder temperatures are needed to freeze the surface water.
    This could help explain the shrinking Arctic ice cap, up until a couple of years ago.
    ‘Climate scientists’ hate geologists, the world’s most sceptical group of people, because they keep coming up with inconvenient facts on so called climate change, not least that natural climate cycles did not suddenly cease in 1950.

    • The Thwaites glacier moves at over 2 km per year, very fast for a glacier. It is reported to have accelerated in recent years (? When) and also the surface has lowered and the grounding line has retreated coastward. This is the dynamics and the answer will definitely be found at the ice/bedrock contact. All the facts suggest melt at the glacier’s base. The assertion that global warming is responsible for what is observed of this glacier is unsupported and unsustainable. The talk of the glacier’s imminent collapse and a subsequent rise in sea level is alarmist exaggeration.

    • Has there been seismic indications of volcano activity? I get reports of +5 events, but few from Antarctice.

  5. I first remember the BBC reporting “the imminent collapse of Larsen B” in the mid 1970’s.
    By 1979 I considered the “Larsen B is going to collapse” story to be a BBC Xmas tradition.
    Not once did the BBC ever use the term “geothermal”.
    A search of the BBC news website for “Larsen B geothermal” produces no results.
    A search for “Larsen B” gives fewer results than it used to.
    The BBC has been in alarmist-propaganda production a very long time.

  6. @jarthuroriginal
    If you want to be in a position to speak on scientific matters and be heard, I suggest you try out for some lead parts in movies and TV.
    Equally, a good alternative is to fail to make much of a mark as a scientist, then offer yourself to a politician as a convenient mouthpiece for justifying whatever policies they care to adopt.
    So long as you can advocate a vaguely coherent rationalisation for increasing taxes and providing subsidies, with one bound you can suddenly become the world authority on a wide variety of subjects, admired by a huge crown of businessmen, politicians and activists….

    • “…is to fail to make much of a mark as a scientist, then offer yourself to a politician as a convenient mouthpiece for justifying whatever policies they care to adopt. “
      Could that be a Davis Suzuki reference?

  7. 2nd paper in 5 months on geothermal melting the Thwaites glacier. Like the first doubtful whether it will make the MSM.

  8. Years ago a friend would occasionally toss the comment “I blame global warming” into conversations at utterly inane, off-topic moments. What was really surprising was the emphatic agreement he received from apparently sane people.
    I think George Carlin explained this phenomenon when he said:
    “ You know how stupid the average person is, right? Well half of them are stupider than that. ”
    See George Carlin – The Planet is Fine !

    Regards to all, Allan 🙂

    • Yes. I insert “(possibly due to global warming)” at random points for the same reason.
      I’ve also started using “to distract from the Abbott666 Regime’s budget.”

  9. I’m sorry but “Duh”. When I saw here a while back a map with this information, it just seemed so logical what was going on. When a total scientific illiterate like me has that reaction, it makes me wonder what were the top scientists thinking.

    • Especially when you know the majority of the Antarctic where there’s no geothermal warming is fairy stable.

  10. Just decamped from Iceland to the semi-tropics of Amsterdam (/sarc) but al least my fingers don’t break off on the keyboard. The locals are waiting for the caldera cap on Bardarbunga to collapse, dumping 850 meters of ice into the cooker. It’s sinking at the rate of 40cm per day, 20 meters so far.
    Back to the Antarctic though and the claim that conditions now are “just like” 14,000 years ago. At that time, the climate switch had been thrown to end the glacial period and sea levels were rising very fast. According to the chart, around 20 meters since the low point at the start of pulse 1A.
    There must have been well established coastal ice dams holding back the inland glaciers, which might indeed have been “loose on the rocks” due to geothermal activity. As the sea level rose, the coastal ice floated off and at some point the pre-lubed glaciers followed them out to sea.
    But today, sea level has been pretty stable for a long time. The inland glaciers exist in an equilibrium state and unless something dramatic happens to shake them loose, I suspect they will stay right where they are. I would put my money on volcanism before anything in the atmosphere.
    I wonder how deep the ice is over the rift zone? Iceland is full of volcanos with flat tops that erupted during the glacial epoch and did not dislodge the overlying glaciers.

  11. News just in
    Michael Mann releases new Hockey Schtick proving rising CO2 from Iron furnaces in CoalBrookdale caused the Mount Tambora eruption based on 3 tree rings found upside down in his Christmas cracker.
    Kevin Trenberth says this shows that the pause is caused by missing heat being transmitted to earths core.
    John Cook claims Koch brothers bribed Antarctic volcanoes.
    Naomi Klein calls for global Marxist dictatorship to be set up to consign problem of Capitalist Vulcanism to be consigned to dustbin of history, Says ‘This could never have happened under rule of our great leader Comrade Stalin’

  12. It’s called the Mann-tle Conveyor – AGW heat is sucked into the deep oceans heating the crust. The heat is transferred to the mantle and then released beneath Antarctica due to the earth’s magnetosphere.

    • Oh.. so that’s why the magnetic field is getting weaker. It’s doing all the heavy lifting and moving all that evil Mann made CO2 heat from the North Atlantic to the South Pole. Makes perfect sense now. (Do I need the </sarc> tag?)

  13. According to Professor John Turner, a climate expert at the British Antarctic Survey.
    It is estimated that the Pine Island glacier alone loses so much water that it is responsible for 10% of global annual sea level rise (which is about 3mm per year). Warm currents come from deep water and heat the underside of the ice sheet, causing it to melt. Turner says this process probably has little to do with global warming. “Pine Island seems to be an ongoing retreat that could have been going on for 10,000 years,” he says.

    • Warm currents from deep water can only be from volcanic heat.
      Otherwise they can’t occur (this is Antarctica, not the red sea).
      So Turner is 100% right – this is nothing to do with any climatic or (non-geological) oceanographic phenomenon.

    • Let’s see 0.3mm × 10,000= 3,000 m
      So, 3 m of sea level rise from the pine island glacier these past 10 millennia.
      Nope, don’t want it-not scarey enough.

      • Let’s see 0.3mm × 10,000= 3,000 m</i?
        should be 3,000mm. 3,000 m of sea rise IS scarey, and well past Lady Liberty's waist.

    • Well, every direction away from the Pole is North, so how can one say there’s an East side and a West Side anyway? Every coast is a southern coast.

  14. I started pointing out the loss of ice in this area was geothermal to alarmists when a new volcano was discovered last November. Of course, they were in denial even when presented with the data that showed no actual warming of Antarctica.
    When the Schroeder paper came out in June I continued to point out the geothermal nature of the melting but they still denied it as the paper itself did not specifically make the claim. Now, we have paper that clearly specifies the ice loss is natural. I wonder how many of the true believers will still be in denial? My bet is the vast majority.

  15. This may be a stupid question, but why not drill some cores down to bedrock in the affected areas and measure the temps?
    I’m going to hit the post comment button once and hope my comment only appears once!

  16. This may be a stupid question, but why not drill some cores down to bedrock in the affected areas and measure the temps?
    I’m going to hit the post comment button once and hope my comment only appears once!
    [Nope – Showed up twice. .mod]

  17. first they use gravity to map the ocean floor…..volcanoes……then some moron puts two and two together

  18. I believe the CAGW people will claim that these under ice volcanoes were caused by climate change. Or some variation of that theme.
    You can’t win the argument with hardcore believers. They believe earthquakes and tsunamis (undersea earthquakes) are caused by global warming too.

  19. Interesting thanks.
    I recall that the warming of the peninsula was said to be due to ocean currents (by the same alarmist researcher who had to be educated by Stephen McIntyre on how do statistical analysis, the correct way showed only the peninsula warming not the rest of the continent).
    This further illustrates how much is not known that is necessary to understand climate and ice phenomenon.
    IIRC recent research found many volcanoes under the Arctic ocean (currents from the wide gap to the Atlantic ocean being a big factor as well).

  20. What’s this from 1963!?

    Abstract – 1963
    Published online: 29 Dec 2009
    An analysis of the present balance of the ice mass on the Antarctic continent carried out by several authors, shows a substantial excess of supply over expenditure. However, no consideration was given to the possibility of a decrease in the amount of Antarctic ice by melting at its lower surface and a run-off of water. This paper is intended to fill this gap.
    A theoretical analysis shews that the possibility of such melting exists for a definite relationship between the ice thickness, the temperature at its surface, the rate of accumulation and the geothermal heat flow.
    Using numerical values for these factors, it is shown that throughout the entire central zone of the Antarctic ice cap, over an area of about 12 × 106, there is continuous melting at the bed.
    Contours of the rates of bottom melting are given on a map of the continent. The maximun rate of melting is about 6–7 mm of water per year; the average rate in the area of melting is about 3 mm of water per year, equivalent to a volume not exceeding 20 km3 of water per year, and not more than several percent of the total ice balance of the continent.
    [International Association of Scientific Hydrology. Bulletin Volume 8, Issue 1, 1963]

  21. Sceptics seem to have been charting the course of climate science with a lead of 3 to 5 years (volcanic melting of polar ice, lower sensitivity of CO2, the significance of ENSO, PDO, AMO, etc – all going mainstream.
    I’ve commented on volcanoes in West Antarctica on numerous occasions. I recall it was shortly after Steig had presented his paper on global warming hitting Antarctica that new volcanoes were discovered on the sea floor just off West Antarctica. A year or two later, a chain of submarine volcanoes was discovered in eastern Arctic north of Iceland and about a year ago, a paper on hot spots under Greenland!! Sceptics and other thinking people came to the conclusion that geothermal energy is a player in both polar regions.
    I think sceptics have not only made a higher barrier for science to clamber over and had low grade papers retracted, but have been unwittingly leading new researchers out of the ideological wildnerness into science. It would be good to document this. It would be a good paper for the AGU with a forecast of where the science will be going over the next 5-10yrs. It would have been nice for me and others here at WUWT, JoNova, C.A., etc to cited for our contributions but it just ain’t done that way.

  22. This paper says, it is likely geothermal melting of the base of the Thwaites Glacier is higher than for other Antarctic glaciers and that’s pretty much all it says. It helps explain why this glacier advances as quickly as it does.
    No indication/suggestion the rate of melting has changed over any relevant timescale and hence no indication that geothermal melt has any contribution to retreat or otherwise of the glacier.

  23. The paper says:
    “An oceanic trigger is thought to be responsible for current change at the grounding line of Thwaites Glacier”
    The “oceanic trigger” is due to climate change.
    “in order to determine the effects of this coastal change further in the interior of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet it is essential to also better constrain basal conditions that control the dynamics of fast glacial flow within the catchment itself.”
    “in order to determine the effects of this coastal change”
    Which is due to climate change.
    And from the article posted above:
    “West Antarctica is also hemorrhaging ice due to climate change, and recent studies have suggested there is no way to reverse the retreat of West Antarctic glaciers.”

    • The above post is the third study of this year which shows that the acceleration of glaciers of west Antarctica is due to sub-glacial vulcanism and geothermal heat. Previous attribution of this acceleration to “climate change” is unsupported. Claims of “catastrophic collapse” of the glaciers and subsequent rise in sea level is the usual sort of exaggerated alarmism one hears these days.

    • Martin
      October 12, 2014 at 6:56 pm
      The paper says:

      “An oceanic trigger is thought to be responsible for current change at the grounding line of Thwaites Glacier”

      The “oceanic trigger” is due to climate change.

      Long-term actual measurements of the actual Antarctic air temperatures since 1979 show that Antarctic air temperatures are getting colder.
      What “global warming” (er, climate change) are you talking about? That the air temperatures are getting colder and causing the glaciers to melt faster in -35 degree C than they did at -34 degrees C?

    • Martin October 12, 2014 at 6:56 pm
      The paper says:
      “An oceanic trigger is thought to be responsible for current change at the grounding line of Thwaites Glacier”
      The “oceanic trigger” is due to climate change.

      “Climate” and “climate change” are the same thing. Climate is always changing. Climate is a nonlinear dissipative heat engine subject to both internal (unforced) and externally forced oscillations. In fact the very use of the term “climate change” – implying it is something anomalous – is a stark admission, and badge, of utter ignorance about the dynamics of the real world where chaos rules and back of envelope Arrhenius-style linearity is a total irrelevance.

  24. Greenland and West Antarctica have been their respective hemisphere’s wild children for a very long time. In both cases nearby ocean sediments record the scariest 18O rides in the planet’s adventure park. These Oxygen isotopes record sudden warming that certainly would be catastrophic on a planetary scale, albeit before humans started burning too many campfires, but maybe they are not planetary in scale…

  25. Surely this check should have been made before the first public claim that it was caused by global warming/climate change if there was such a subject as climate science and not just a rebranded one of “climate politics and climate religious studies”.

    This is the inside of a stunning glacial ice cave created from the remnants of last winter in the Scottish Highlands.
    The video taken by a climber shows the mini ‘glacier’ formed by a huge block of snow and ice which fill a gully – a ravine formed by water.
    The cave, 3,000ft in the Cairngorms, has been carved by meltwater running underneath the ice and there are a series of tunnels and a beautiful sculpted ceiling.
    In January this year, Dundee University geographer Dr Martin Kirkbride, told the BBC “a Scottish glacier existed more recently than we had previously thought”.

Comments are closed.