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The largest Earth science funding agencies in the United Kingdom and the United States are collaborating to investigate one of the most unstable glaciers in Antarctica. The US National Science Foundation (NSF) and UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) are teaming up to study a rapidly changing glacier roughly the same size as Florida or Britain.

The NERC and NSF partnership, called the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (ITGC), covers research across Thwaites Glacier and its adjacent ocean region; the glacier flows into Pine Island Bay, part of Amundsen Sea. ITGC is the largest joint UK-US project undertaken on the southern continent in 70 years.

See a short overview of why Thwaites Glacier research matters.

Read the ITGC launch announcement.

Over the past 30 years, the amount of ice flowing out of this 120-kilometer-wide region has nearly doubled. Overall the glacier is the size of the island of Britain, or the state of Florida, and it straddles some of the deepest bedrock in the southern continent.

Warm ocean water from the Amundsen Sea circulates under the ice, causing it to melt. Melting loosens the ice from the bedrock below, causing it to flow faster and eventually to retreat into the deeper and thicker ice areas where it is likely to speed up still more.

Starting in 2018, and over the next five years, teams of scientists will explore the ocean and marine sediments, measure currents flowing toward the deep ice, and examine the stretching, bending, and grinding of the glacier over the landscape below. The project will involve more than 60 scientists and students.

Multiple factors affect the glacier, such as snow, winds, calving fronts, Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW), and the Amundsen Sea Low (ASL).