what happens if the thwaites glacier melts

These simulations also show that there’s an important role for future expeditions to try to narrow down the possible scenarios of sea level rise from Thwaites, Robel says. The Pine Island Glacier drainage basin occupies an area of 175,000 square km. Scambos said coastal cities in the U.S. and worldwide are looking ahead to how higher sea levels could impact them. The expedition to Thwaites is part of the race to discover how fast the massive glacier is melting and what that will mean for global sea level rise over the next century. The important thing is how fast is this going to happen.". Sea levels are currently rising at a rate of 3.3 millimeters per year, and have risen by 91 millimeters since 1993, according to NASA. He and two other scientists from the California Institute of Technology and the University of Washington wrote the report published by the National Academy of Sciences. If Thwaites' melting happens over centuries, then nations would have more time to get ready. It Has Dire Implications for Global Sea Levels. The amount of ice flowing out of the region has nearly doubled in the last 30 years, losing 35 gigatons of ice per year between 2009-2017 alone. Thwaites Glacier, Antarctica, pictured in 2019 ... “We know ice sheets are melting as global temperatures increase, but uncertainties remain about how much and how fast that will happen,” said Chris Forest, professor of climate dynamics at Penn State. Icebergs are chunks of glacial ice that break off glaciers and fall into the ocean. To put that in perspective, there has been about 20 centimeters of sea level rise in the last 100-120 years, according to Levermann. He says all of the ice in Thwaites glacier could increase the global sea level by a bit more than two feet. This is the last in a series, Into the Thaw: Decoding Thwaites Glacier . Write to Jasmine Aguilera at jasmine.aguilera@time.com. A team of UK and US researchers have found a series of deep channels beneath Thwaites Glacier thought to be acting as pathways for warm ocean water to melt the underside of the ice. So what might happen if Thwaites does collapse? A faster rise in sea level, however, could force countries to act more urgently. Seawater that is a few degrees above freezing is melting the ice shelf from below. But the real danger is what happens after. When they tested these predictions using a computer model of Thwaites glacier, they reached the same conclusion. If that pace were to double or triple suddenly because glacier melt really picked up, "then that’s going to really throw a wrench into the ability for these nations to plan and prepare for the impacts of sea level rise," Scambos said. Deep channels discovered under the Antarctic's so-called "Doomsday glacier" may be allowing warm ocean water to melt the underside of ice, according to … “There’s always going to be some level of uncertainty in terms of our future projections, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t know some very important things,” he added. As ice and warmer seawater flow underneath the glacier, it lifts off the land and speeds up its retreat. It’s the latest bad sign for the Thwaites Glacier, which has recorded some of the most rapid melt rates out of anywhere in Antarctica. Earlier this year, a NASA-led study discovered that a giant cavity, two-thirds the area of Manhattan had developed underneath Thwaites, highlighting the unexpected accelerated melting in the region. The Pine Island Glacier and the Thwaites Glacier are two of the five largest ice streams in Antarctica. If you’re not stupid, you don’t die of sea level rise because it’s so slow that there’s time to protect against it or abandon the land,” Levermann says. Robel, along with scientists Helene Seroussi and Gerard Roe used mathematical analysis and computer models to make projections of sea levels in the future. "Satellites show the Thwaites region is changing rapidly, but to answer the key questions of how much, and how quickly sea-level will change in the future, requires scientists on the ground with sophisticated equipment collecting the data we need to measure rates of ice-volume or ice-mass change," said William E. Easterling, assistant director for the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Geosciences, in a statement last year. Scientists worry that would cause the remaining ice to melt faster. Thwaites holds back a … NASA researchers released a study in January that said a giant cavity roughly two-thirds the size of Manhattan was rapidly melting underneath the glacier due to climate change. The climate scientists who measured likely outcomes of glacial melting at the bottom of the world focused the study on the Thwaites glacier, an area as large as Florida in western Antarctica that is considered the most unstable in the continent. Melting from Greenland and Antarctica would not only bump up sea levels but might bring more extreme weather and dramatic shifts in temperature, according to a study published in Nature in February. Coastal cities throughout the world are at risk if sea levels continue to rise. “Not only that, but that range will start to skew towards scenarios of more rapid sea level rise.”. Scambos is part of the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (ITGC), a partnership between British and American scientists that studies the glacier's retreat up close. THWAITES GLACIER OFFSHORE RESEARCH. Robel says there needs to be recognition by nations around the world that there will be sea level rises and they need to prepare for them by adapting infrastructure and taking actions that will prevent exacerbating the issue. "It could potentially destabilize the whole region of West Antarctica," Lucas Zoet, a University of Wisconsin geoscientist, , told USA TODAY. More: Here are the facts: Despite winter storms, global warming is real. The biggest and most notable impact of these glaciers melting is in the rise of sea level. Even before this cavity, Thwaites' rapid ice loss and potential impact on global sea levels were significant enough that researchers from around the world planned to physically travel there starting this year. Antarctica's doomsday glacier is melting. If all glacial ice were to melt, it would cause the sea level to rise 230 feet around the world. “Not only that… Immediately, we'd get about 2 feet of sea level rise. Thwaites has been described as one of the world's most dangerous glaciers because its demise could lead to rapid changes in global sea levels. The Thwaites Glacier is melting … and it is melting fast. Veuer's Sam Berman has the full story. "It holds a kind of wildcard for being able to increase the rate of sea-level rise quite rapidly if things unfold a certain way," said Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist with the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Global temperature has already increased by about 1 degree celsius since the pre-industrial era, Larter says, meaning there’s only about 0.5 degrees left for global temperature to rise. "Eventually, we’re going to lose big areas of the Antarctic, big areas in Greenland. The RV Nathanial B Palmer research ship in front of Thwaites Glacier, Dr Aleksandra Mazur, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, Updated: July 11, 2019 9:25 AM ET | Originally published: July 10, 2019 7:05 PM EDT, Melania Trump's Christmas Decorations Gave the Internet the Most Wonderful Memes of the Year, Republicans Attack Joe Biden’s Budget Chief Pick Over Tweets, Who Should Be TIME’s Person of the Year for 2020? The cavity is big enough to have contained 14 billion tons of ice, with most of it melting over the past three years. More: Melting glaciers in Arctic reveal land hidden for 40,000 years, study says, "The point is not so much is whether or not it’s going to happen, unless we really change how much heat-trapping gasses we’re putting in the atmosphere," said Scambos of the glacier's melting. "It's a major throughway of how ice gets discharged from West Antarctica into the ocean," said Zoet. When that happens, the glaciers behind the ice shelves speed up, releasing more ice to the sea. Thwaites' nickname stems mostly from what would happen after it melts. “It’s definitely distressing on a human level to think or realize the fact that there is a certain amount of not going back in terms of sea level rise that we’ve already committed ourselves to in the future,” Robel added. More: Antarctic ice melting 6 times faster than it did in '80s, More: Ancient Antarctic ice sheet collapse could happen again, triggering a new global flood. “The more this marine ice sheet instability occurs, the wider the range of possible future sea level rise becomes,” Robel says. Melting at Thwaites grounding zone and its control on sea level (MELT) MELT is an ice-based project to understand how warm waters are affecting the Thwaites Glacier at the grounding line – the point where the glacier goes afloat to become ice shelf. “The more this marine ice sheet instability occurs, the wider the range of possible future sea level rise becomes,” Robel says. Sea ice forms and melts strictly in the ocean whereas glaciers are formed on land. If all the ice on Thwaites is lost, it would raise ocean levels an additional 2 feet, according to the NASA study. The Thwaites Glacier is one of the most dangerous glaciers in the world, and scientists are eager to travel to Antarctica to study it. What Would Happen If The Pine Island Glacier Melts? The glacier measures more than 70,000 square miles, making it one of the largest glaciers in the world, said NERC. Glaciers in West Antarctica like the Thwaites and PIG worry scientists because their melting could eventually expose inland glaciers and even more ice, causing a drastic rise in sea levels. He added that there are more marine ice sheets in Antarctica that could become destabilized if warming continues. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our, NASA-led study discovered that a giant cavity, International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, A Glacier the Size of Florida Is Becoming Unstable. So what happens if Thwaites melts? Most of the ice loss from Antarctica comes form western Antarctica. What happens when it melts? ... the same wind patterns led to a lot of surface melting," he said. What especially worries scientists is if the melting accelerates. Start the day smarter: Get USA TODAY's Daily Briefing in your inbox. Things certainly won’t stop there,” Larter added. "As more heat and water get under the glacier, it melts faster." If Thwaites' melting happens over centuries, then nations would have more time to get ready. "If this cavity grows or sort of expands, that’s one way it can get off this last sort of ridge that Thwaites Glacier is hanging on to," Zoet told USA TODAY. More: Melting ice from Greenland and Antarctica could cause more extreme weather. Thwaites Glacier, also known as the "doomsday glacier", is reported to be melting quicker than previously thought - scientists are now trying to find out why. “Part of the aim of what we’re doing as scientists is trying to constrain the uncertainties and give better predictions, but in some ways the more we’re finding out the more uncertainties we’re discovering.”. Scientists’ ultimate goal is to develop more accurate global sea level rise models so coastal residents and governments have enough time to plan for future changes. “A fact that we have to keep in our minds next to that is that our future actions can significantly change how much sea level rise will occur in the future.”, “The bigger picture is there are some wild cards in the deck here and the more we’ve learned over the last few years the more the uncertainties are increasing,” Larter, who has studied Antarctica for 15 years and has traveled to Thwaites on scientific expeditions with the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, a partnership of scientists from the U.S. and the U.K., says. The study found that even if no further climate change happens in the future, more Antarctic ice sheets are likely to become unstable. The melting of floating ice as it makes contact with the ocean is a key reason why the glacier is coming unglued. When glaciers melt, because that water is stored on land, the runoff significantly increases the amount of … Roughly the size of Florida, Thwaites' melting is currently responsible for about 4 percent of global sea level rise, according to NASA in its recent study on the glacier's giant hole. Marine ice sheets, which are formed when warmer ocean water melts the area between the sea’s ground floor and the ice causing a cavity, are at risk of collapsing. For example it is certain that there will continue to be a rise in sea level because of past changes in climate, he says. “The warmer we make the planet, the more ice we lose.”. Over the past 30 years, ice loss from Thwaites and its neighbouring glaciers has increased more than fivefold, accounting for more than 4% of global sea-level rise. A massive research effort is under way to understand Antarctica's Thwaites glacier before it is too late. By signing up you are agreeing to our, A London-Sized Iceberg Broke Off Antarctica, Sign up to receive the top stories you need to know now on politics, health and more, © 2020 TIME USA, LLC. Robel, along with scientists Helene Seroussi and Gerard Roe used mathematical analysis and computer models to make projections of sea levels in the future. Levermann says scientists will know much more in the next 20 years at the current rate of research, and adds that the world needs to prepare for significant sea level rise by the year 2100 and monitor changes to Antarctica and Greenland. Can we save it in time? The Thwaites Glacier is the largest, most menacing source of rising sea levels all over the world, and it is melting at an alarming rate. This will allow the glacier’s potential sea-level contribution to be more accurately predicted. An enormous hole has formed beneath Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica. Glaciers are huge sheets of ice moving very slowly, and contain vast amounts of … Behind the glacier lies an even larger body of ice that, for as long as Thwaites is intact, is protected from contact with too-warm waters. What is still uncertain is how fast the continent is losing ice or if the instability of the Thwaites marine ice sheet is the result of climate change, but Levermann says there simply hasn’t been enough research to know for sure. Thwaites has been difficult to study because it's far from U.S. bases in the Antarctic and also because the weather is "particularly bad," said Zoet. “Due to our past changes in climate there is a certain amount of sea level rise that will definitely occur in the future,” Alex Robel, a glaciologist and assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, tells TIME. The Thwaites Glacier is...a glacier. Thwaites Glacier is melting fast, and scientists fear its collapse could one day destabilize surrounding glaciers and eventually trigger up to 11 feet of global sea level rise. The glacier's grounding line, the point at which ice meets the land underneath, has retreated over 9 miles between 1992 and 2011, according to NERC. It also states that as destabilization of glaciers in Antarctica continues, it’s increasingly likely that sea levels will rise more rapidly. The glacier sits in West Antarctica and flows into the Amundsen Sea. Vote Now, You can unsubscribe at any time. ... ice sheet is melting faster than anyone had realized — and ... computer models predict could happen … But the glacier also backstops neighboring glaciers. “Nobody has to be afraid of sea level rise. If those glaciers also melt, sea levels could rise an additional eight feet, researchers warn. A massive one that poses such risk it's been branded the 'Doomsday Glacier". All Rights Reserved. West Antarctica has the potential to increase sea levels by 5 meters, while east Antarctica can add 50-60 meters should the continent’s ice completely melt, Anders Levermann, a climate scientist at Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, tells TIME. ... Because the pace is slow, in the past it has been difficult to actually see what scientists are predicting will happen. The growing cavity sits in West Antarctica at the bottom of Thwaites Glacier, which is … But satellite monitoring indicates this glacier is melting at an accelerating rate. Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23. “Having said that, being stupid would include not taking climate change and sea level rise seriously.”. “If you have collapsed a whole glacial system then you’re creating a new front on the other glacial systems that were bordered to it. A faster rise in sea level, however, could force countries to act more urgently. A cavity two thirds the size of Manhattan has formed under one of the world’s most dangerous glaciers. Melting ice sheets in the Antarctic, particularly one of the largest and unstable glaciers in the region, could significantly accelerate global sea level rise, according to a new report. “If Thwaites glacier melts, on its own, we will see a rise in sea level around our own coast,” said Vaughan. Get USA TODAY's Daily Briefing in your inbox, Melting ice from Greenland and Antarctica could cause more extreme weather, Here are the facts: Despite winter storms, global warming is real, International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, Melting glaciers in Arctic reveal land hidden for 40,000 years, study says, according to a study published in Nature in February, Antarctic ice melting 6 times faster than it did in '80s, Ancient Antarctic ice sheet collapse could happen again, triggering a new global flood, Your California Privacy Rights/Privacy Policy. The team, dubbed MELT, or Melting at Thwaites grounding zone and its control on sea level, spent the last two months in -30C weather at the glacier for the project. That amounts to 3% of the current rate of sea level rise according to Robert Larter, a Marine geophysicist at the British Antarctic Survey. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts a rise of 0.26 to 0.77 meters in sea level by the year 2100 if warming increases by 1.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial temperatures—the 19th century—or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. NASA: Enormous cavity found under one of the most dangerous glaciers. “If sufficient warming occurs to remove the ice shelf of Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica, and to drive retreat into the deep basins, the calving … Scientists may just have identified Thwaites Glacier's Achilles heel. The simulations confirmed what scientists like Larter have seen on field expeditions to western Antarctica and previous modeling studies of Thwaites glacier which have shown that the glacier is becoming increasingly unstable. Put simply, it causes sea levels to rise. “It is very curious that for 10,000 years nothing has happened in western Antarctica, and now it’s [unstable] 100 years after we started messing with the temperature of the planet,” Levermann says. They wanted to understand how possible scenarios of future sea level rise might change over time as a result of marine ice sheet instability. Only 28 people have ever set foot on the glacier, according to Britain's Natural Environmental Research Council, or NERC. “That’s a 3 percent contribution that wasn’t there 45 years ago,” Larter tells TIME. Right now, the glacier acts as a buffer between the warming sea and other glaciers. They wanted to understand how possible scenarios of future sea level rise might change over time as a result of marine ice sheet instability. In total the sea has risen by 2.7 centimeters since the 60s and the world's glaciers still contain enough to raise the ocean by another half a meter, which could directly threaten many cities in coastal regions. This Antarctic colossus is melting at a rapid rate, dumping billions of tonnes … If Thwaites melts away, that much-larger ice block will add water to our oceans as well, further driving up sea level rise. Warm water has recently been recorded near the Thwaites Glacier grounding line—the location where the glacial ice rests on the seafloor. The Thwaites glacier is larger than England, Wales and Northern Ireland put together. Scambos said research into Thwaites' retreat started as early as the 1990s, as satellite data got better at tracking Antarctic ice sheets. “Independent of whether this has been triggered by humans—which is a clear possibility without scientific proof yet—but apart from that, we increase the risk of sea level rise and accelerated sea level rise from Antarctica with a warming planet,” Levermann says. Since 1992, satellite observations for Antarctica have found that ice sheets are contributing to global sea level rise.

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