Antarctica’s doomsday glacier melting fast
January 29, 2020 - A massive research effort is underway to understand why the Thwaites glacier is melting so fast. If it collapses, it could trigger catastrophic sea level rise, putting coastal cities around the world at risk.
Thwaites glacier, covering 192,000 square kilometres – an area the size of Great Britain – is particularly susceptible to climate and ocean changes. Over the past 30 years, the amount of ice flowing out of the region has nearly doubled.
A collapse of the glacier would increase sea levels by around 65cm and could trigger a wider collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, raising seas by a calamitous 3.3m.
As part of a five-year, $50m international effort underway to understand why the glacier is changing so rapidly, a team of scientists have drilled through the Antarctic glacier.
The 600-metre deep borehole has allowed researchers to lower down a torpedo-shaped robotic submarine to explore the underside of the ice shelf.
Called Icefin, it carries high definition cameras, sonar, and instruments for monitoring water flow, salinity, oxygen and temperature.
As climate change raises global sea levels, parts of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet are particularly vulnerable to collapse. At the end of the last ice age, parts of West Antarctica thinned by an average of 0.5m to 1m per year. Today with GPS, satellite and airborne measurements, scientists are seeing parts of West Antarctica thin by 1m to 6m per year.
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