Unstable Antarctic Glaciers Could Cause Rapid Sea Level Rise

11 July, 2019, 07:39 | Author: Darnell Taylor
  • Huge glacier melt could cause 20 inch rise in global sea levels

That makes the Thwaites Glacier a melting time bomb. But their contribution to sea level rise pales in comparison to what we may see now that the Antarctic ice sheet faces a tipping point - a point of no return.

A glacier in West Antarctica, known as "the world's most risky", could completely melt away and cause a rapid and "catastrophic" sea-level rise, a new study warns.

The Thwaites Glacier is a large mass of ice born from snow that's been compressed over time. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal found that the glacier was prone to ice melt faster than previously expected. "It increased the chances of rapid ice loss", Robel said.

Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier is now approaching a "tipping point" that would spark an unstoppable flow of ice into the ocean, reports The Sun.

Scientists predicted a scenario of melting ice flow in the coming 50 to 800 years, but they can't be 100% certain because the climate often fluctuates and changes. However, 500 simulations of different scenarios pointed to it losing stability. They need more data to drive accurate conclusions. Other Antarctic glaciers were likely to be similarly unstable.

"If you trigger this instability, you don't need to continue to force the ice sheet by cranking up temperatures", he said. Even with efforts to stop global warming Robel says "It will keep going by itself and that's the worry".

"Climate variations will still be important after that tipping point because they will determine how fast the ice will move".

Study researcher and NASA JPL scientist Helene Seroussi said this may occur in the next 200 to 600 years, and may depend on the topography of the bedrock under the ice.

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Findings from NASA-funded research show that Thwaites glacier's unstable state would lead to an unstoppable 50cm rise in sea levels.

Maps showing sea level rise risk in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs. These results are based on present-day ice melt rates, meaning that higher rates of global warming will lead to faster and stronger melt rates than identified in this paper.

A massive cavity that is two-thirds the size of Manhattan and almost the height of the Chrysler Building is growing at the bottom of the Thwaites Glacier, one of the world's most unsafe glaciers.

The ice above the hollow eventually loses land contact and flows even faster out to sea.

The grounding line is the line between where the ice sheet rests on the seafloor and where it extends over the water.

That grounding line moved nearly 9 miles (14 kilometres) between 1992 and 2011, according to a 2014 study; the farther inland the spot moves, the more likely it is that the glacier will melt. "Once the ice is past the grounding line and just over the water, it's contributing to sea level because buoyancy is holding it up more than it was", Robel said.

Antarctica is ringed by a skirt of ice sheets and floating ice shelves that create a physical barrier between the ocean and the landlocked ice on the continent.

The timing of when glacial instability might kick-in varied widely. In the simulations, Thwaites Glacier colossal ice loss kicked in after 600 years, but it could come sooner.


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