Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier is losing tens of feet, or several meters, of ice elevation every year.
An alarming situation regarding the beginning of the long-freighted collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has been raised by two scientists. It hit off a centuries-long process that could raise sea levels by as much as 15 feet.
“There’s been a lot of speculation about the stability of marine ice sheets, and many scientists suspected that this kind of behavior is under way,” Ian Joughin, a glaciologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, said in a news release about one of the studies released Monday. “This study provides a more qualitative idea of the rates at which the collapse could take place.”
“This is really happening,” said Thomas P. Wagner, who runs NASA’s programs on polar ice and helped oversee some of the research. “There’s nothing to stop it now. But you are still limited by the physics of how fast the ice can flow.”
Detailed topography maps and computer modeling were used by University of Washington researchers to show that the breakdown appears to have already started. That glacier also acts as a fulcrum on the rest of the ice sheet, which contains enough ice to cause another 10 to 13 feet (3 to 4 meters) of global sea level rise.
According to the scientists the reason behind the melting of the ice sheet was not the warmer air temperatures, but the relatively warm water, which occur naturally, from the ocean depths. That water is being pulled upward and toward the ice sheet by amplification of the winds around Antarctica.
The new finding seems to be the fulfillment of a forecast made in 1978 by an eminent glaciologist, John H. Mercer of the Ohio State University.
At this point, a decrease in the melt rate back to earlier levels would be “too little, too late to stabilize the ice sheet,” said Joaquin.
Richard B. Alley, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University who was not the part of the new research but has studied the polar ice sheets for decades, said he found the new papers captivating.
He added that a large rise of the sea may now be unavoidable from West Antarctica, but continued release of greenhouse gases will worsen the situation
The calming part of the news is that while the word “collapse” implies a sudden change, the fastest scenario is 200 years, and the longest is more than 1,000 years. The troubling news is that such a collapse may be inescapable.
The findings were published in the journal Science.