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. “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.”. If those glaciers also melt, sea levels could rise an additional eight feet, researchers warn. 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 growing cavity sits in West Antarctica at the bottom of Thwaites Glacier, which is … A faster rise in sea level, however, could force countries to act more urgently. 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. 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. 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. 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 … Coastal cities throughout the world are at risk if sea levels continue to rise. Seawater that is a few degrees above freezing is melting the ice shelf from below. Thwaites' nickname stems mostly from what would happen after it melts. This will allow the glacier’s potential sea-level contribution to be more accurately predicted. When they tested these predictions using a computer model of Thwaites glacier, they reached the same conclusion. Start the day smarter: Get USA TODAY's Daily Briefing in your inbox. 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. But the real danger is what happens after. ... the same wind patterns led to a lot of surface melting," he said. “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. 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. Scientists worry that would cause the remaining ice to melt faster. 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. If all glacial ice were to melt, it would cause the sea level to rise 230 feet around the world. They wanted to understand how possible scenarios of future sea level rise might change over time as a result of marine ice sheet instability. Write to Jasmine Aguilera at jasmine.aguilera@time.com. It also states that as destabilization of glaciers in Antarctica continues, it’s increasingly likely that sea levels will rise more rapidly. 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. 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. 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. 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. “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. A massive research effort is under way to understand Antarctica's Thwaites glacier before it is too late. 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. “Nobody has to be afraid of sea level rise. 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. 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. 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. 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. "It's a major throughway of how ice gets discharged from West Antarctica into the ocean," said Zoet. 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. It Has Dire Implications for Global Sea Levels. He says all of the ice in Thwaites glacier could increase the global sea level by a bit more than two feet. Glaciers are huge sheets of ice moving very slowly, and contain vast amounts of … “Not only that, but that range will start to skew towards scenarios of more rapid sea level rise.”. “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. Scambos said research into Thwaites' retreat started as early as the 1990s, as satellite data got better at tracking Antarctic ice sheets. "As more heat and water get under the glacier, it melts faster." The melting of floating ice as it makes contact with the ocean is a key reason why the glacier is coming unglued. If Thwaites' melting happens over centuries, then nations would have more time to get ready. An enormous hole has formed beneath Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica. All Rights Reserved. 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. 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. “If Thwaites glacier melts, on its own, we will see a rise in sea level around our own coast,” said Vaughan. 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. The Pine Island Glacier and the Thwaites Glacier are two of the five largest ice streams in Antarctica. More: Here are the facts: Despite winter storms, global warming is real. The Thwaites Glacier is one of the most dangerous glaciers in the world, and scientists are eager to travel to Antarctica to study it. 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. Sea ice forms and melts strictly in the ocean whereas glaciers are formed on land. 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. 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. For example it is certain that there will continue to be a rise in sea level because of past changes in climate, he says. What Would Happen If The Pine Island Glacier Melts? "It could potentially destabilize the whole region of West Antarctica," Lucas Zoet, a University of Wisconsin geoscientist, , told USA TODAY. This is the last in a series, Into the Thaw: Decoding Thwaites Glacier . A faster rise in sea level, however, could force countries to act more urgently. 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. “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. The Thwaites Glacier is...a glacier. Scambos said coastal cities in the U.S. and worldwide are looking ahead to how higher sea levels could impact them. Thwaites holds back a … Can we save it in time? More: Melting ice from Greenland and Antarctica could cause more extreme weather. Most of the ice loss from Antarctica comes form western Antarctica. “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 … 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. 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 more this marine ice sheet instability occurs, the wider the range of possible future sea level rise becomes,” Robel says. THWAITES GLACIER OFFSHORE RESEARCH. 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. He added that there are more marine ice sheets in Antarctica that could become destabilized if warming continues. Right now, the glacier acts as a buffer between the warming sea and other glaciers. So what happens if Thwaites melts? If Thwaites' melting happens over centuries, then nations would have more time to get ready. “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. Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23. “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.
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