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Icebergs calving from the Dotson Ice Shelf in 2010. Photo: Jim Yungel / NASA

Scientists have discovered a long, narrow canyon being carved under Antarctica's Dotson Ice Shelf. The upside-down feature is half as deep as the 400-meter-thick ice shelf in some places, according to new satellite observations.

Why it's happening: "Unlike most recent observations, we think that the channel under Dotson is eroded by warm water, about 1°C, as it circulates under the shelf, stirred clockwise and upward by Earth's rotation," said Noel Gourmelen from the University of Edinburgh.

Why it matters: Ice shelves hold glaciers together and slow their flow into the ocean, which can add to sea-level rise, so researchers want to better understand how canyons like these form and affect their stability.

What it means for Dotson: If the uneven melting continued at its current rate, the canyon could melt through in 40 - 50 years rather than 170 - 200 years predicted for even melting. However, the researchers point out the shelf's thinning is likely to change in response to the uneven melting. "But the important point here is that Dotson is not a flat slab and it can be much thinner in places than we think it is and much closer to a stage where it might experience major change," Gourmelen said.

Go deeper

Updated 14 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Fauci says he accepted Biden's offer to be chief medical adviser "on the spot" — The recovery needs rocket fuel.
  2. Health: CDC: It's time for "universal face mask use" — Death rates rising across the country — Study: Increased testing can reduce transmission.
  3. Economy: U.S. economy adds 245,000 jobs in November as recovery slows — America's hidden depression: K-shaped recovery threatens Biden administration.
  4. Cities: Bay Area counties to enact stay-at-home order ahead of state mandate
  5. Vaccine: What vaccine trials still need to do.
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  7. 🎧 Podcast: Former FDA chief Rob Califf on the vaccine approval process.
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Bay Area counties to enact stay-at-home order ahead of state mandate

Golden Gate Park. Photo: Justin Sullivan via Getty

Counties around the San Francisco Bay Area will adopt California’s new regional stay-at-home order amid surges in cases and ICU hospitalizations, health officials said Friday.

The big picture: California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a three-week stay-at-home order on Thursday that would go into effect in regions with less than 15% ICU capacity. Despite the Bay Area’s current 25.3% ICU capacity, health officials from Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, San Francisco and the city of Berkeley are moving ahead with a shelter-in-place mandate in the hopes of reducing risk.

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Former FDA chief Rob Califf on the vaccine approval process

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Axios Re:Cap digs in with former FDA commissioner Rob Calif about the EUA process, the science and who should make the final call.