According to a news release accompanying the study, the researchers concluded that the glacier has “lost contact with the seafloor ridge” and is currently retreating at a rate of 1.3 miles per year — double what they predicted between 2011 and 2019.
Unlike some other land-bound glaciers, Thwaites is located on the sea floor, making it more vulnerable to warming waters caused by human-caused climate change. Thwaites already accounts for about 4 percent of annual sea-level rise.
“You can’t take the Thwaites and leave the rest of Antarctica intact,” Alastair Graham, a marine geologist at the University of South Florida and co-author of the study, said in a telephone interview.
I described the consequences of losing Thwaites as “existential”.
according to United Nationsmore than 40 percent of the world’s population lives within 60 miles of the coast—areas that will be hit hard by rising tides.
“Thwaites is really holding on today, and we should expect to see big changes on small time scales in the future as the glacier retreats to the edge of a shallow ridge in its bed,” he said. Robert Larter of the British Antarctic Survey, co-author of the study.
Satellite images taken late last year revealed that the ice shelf used to stabilize the eastern part of Thwaites Glacier is showing signs of cracking – which scientists say could create a ‘spider web’ effect across the wedge during strong winds. The Washington Post.
The collapse of the shelf would not immediately contribute to sea-level rise, though it could accelerate erosion of the Thwaites Glacier, forcing landlocked ice from the structure into the sea, the researchers say.
Graham said his team can’t predict with certainty whether or when the glacier structure will melt completely, but reducing planet-warming emissions over the next 75 years will be critical to its survival.
“Right now, we can do something about it — especially if we can stop the ocean from warming,” he said.
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