Study says ‘doomsday glacier’ the size of Florida in Antarctica is melting faster than thought

Written by Rachel Koning Beals

Thwaites Glacier, grabbing its fingernails, is warming faster than below, putting pressure on the ice shelf holding it in place.

The so-called “doomsday glacier” in Antarctica – so ominously nicknamed because of the high risks of collapse and the threat to sea levels and the global economy – has the potential to reverse rapidly within five years.

That’s faster than scientists who first studied the glacier’s demise in the 1970s thought, according to a study released Monday, previous findings suggest.

Officially known as the Thwaites Glacier, the glacier formation, if separated, is capable of raising sea levels by several feet.

“Thwaites is really sticking with its nails today, and we should expect to see big changes on small time scales in the future — even from year to year — once the glacier retreats beyond a shallow ledge on its bottom,” said Robert Larter, a marine geophysicist and one of the co-authors. In the study from the British Antarctic Survey, in a statement.

why does it matter? The high seas can cost both developed and developing nations in lost lives, lost business and recovery costs. Deloitte analysis shows that inadequate action on climate change and global warming could cost the US economy alone $14.5 trillion in the next 50 years. The loss on this metric equates to roughly 4% of GDP or $1.5 trillion in 2070 alone.

When sea levels are rising as quickly as they have been, a slight increase can have detrimental effects on coastal habitats in the interior. National Geographic explains that rising seas can cause devastating erosion, flooding of wetlands, salt contamination of groundwater and agricultural soils, and loss of habitat for fish, birds and plants, all of which affect the way we eat and are exposed to disease. For example, submerging rivers well inland can become more dangerous for longer if there is no room for them to empty into the oceans.

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In Thwaites’ peer-reviewed report published in Nature Geoscience, scientists map the glacier’s historical retreat, hoping that its past behavior will lead to what the glacier is likely to do in the coming years.

The rapid disintegration of the glacier may have occurred “as recently as the mid-20th century,” Alistair Graham, lead author of the study and a marine geophysicist at the University of South Florida, said in the statement.

Read: Good news about climate change? Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has the healthiest coral in 36 years

Thwaites is eroding along its underwater base as the planet warms. So far, a ridge on the sea floor is helping to hold the glacier in place. But a separate study last year showed that the Thwaites ice shelf, which helps stabilize the glacier and prevents the ice from flowing freely into the ocean, could break within five years.

The seafloor maps were documented for the study on a 20-hour mission in harsh conditions that covered an underwater area the size of Houston, according to the statement.

The Thwaites Glacier, actually located in West Antarctica, is one of the widest on Earth and larger than the state of Florida. But it’s just a faction of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which contains enough ice to raise sea level by as much as 16 feet, according to NASA.

With the acceleration of the climate crisis, this region has been closely watched due to its rapid melting and potential for widespread coastal destruction.

In fact, the Thwaites glacier itself has worried scientists for decades. As early as 1973, researchers wondered if it was at risk of collapse. After nearly a decade, they found that because the glacier rests on the sea floor, rather than dry land, warm ocean currents can melt the glacier from below, destabilizing it from below.

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Other sources of sea level rise are under observation.

For example, it appears that the rapidly melting Greenland ice sheet, called “zombie ice,” will eventually raise global sea level by at least 10.6 inches (27 cm), according to a study published late last month.

The forecast is more than double what was previously forecast, according to the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland. ”

Zombie Ice is still attached to thicker areas of ice but is no longer replenished by parent glaciers that now receive less snow. The authors argue that without regeneration, the exhausted ice will melt due to climate change and will inevitably lead to sea level rise.

“It’s dead ice. It will melt and disappear from the ice sheet,” William Colgan, a glaciologist with the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, told The Associated Press. “This ice has been sent to the ocean, no matter what climate (emissions) scenario we take now.”

His position advocates that global powers work together not only to mitigate the impact of pollutants and other factors that lead to global warming (ICLN), but also to spend and invest to adapt to significant climate changes on Earth.

The World Economic Forum stressed that this will require a generation-specific level of creativity and commitment, not only from governments, but also from the private sector. The World Economic Forum says the world needs to invest an estimated $5.7 trillion annually in green infrastructure and other adaptation and mitigation efforts.

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-Rachel King Beals


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09-10-22 1045ET

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