'World's most unsafe glacier' could cause catastrophic sea level rise, study warns

11 Juillet, 2019, 07:35 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • 'World's most unsafe glacier' could cause catastrophic sea level rise, study warns

Alex Robel, another study author, added that if the glacier were to cross that Rubicon, nothing could stop the ice melt - even if Earth's temperatures stopped rising.

Thwaites fglacoer measures approximately 70,000 miles (about the size of the U.S. state of Florida) and scientists have warned it is reaching "tipping point", meaning it will be impossible to reverse the process of the glacier melting and raising sea levels.

What's more ominous, the research finds, is that once this instability is triggered it's hard, if not impossible, to stop.

Modelling simulations suggested extensive ice loss would start in 600 years but the researchers said it could occur sooner depending on the pace of global heating and nature of the instability.

If both abruptly collapsed, allowing ice far inland to flow faster into the oceans, world sea levels could rise by more than a metre (three feet), threatening cities from Shanghai to San Francisco and low-lying coastal regions.

The ice giant is heading towards a doomsday "instability" which once crossed means it could all float out into the sea and melt within 150 years, the NASA-funded study found. "There is nearly eight times as much ice in the Antarctic ice sheet as there is in the Greenland ice sheet and 50 times as much as in all the mountain glaciers in the world", Robel said. Satellite data showed Antarctica lost as much sea ice in four years as the Arctic lost in 34 years. This increased uncertainty about future sea level rise but made the worst-case scenarios more likely.

The warnings were based on the latest simulations of hidden "instabilities" underneath Antarctica's glaciers.

"Climate variations will still be important after that tipping point because they will determine how fast the ice will move".

Current sea levels are almost 20cm above pre-global warming levels and are blamed for increased coastal flooding across the world - which can result in loss of life.

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The researchers explained huge ice shelves rested on the continent's bedrock beneath the water line.

If and when the glacier becomes unstable, the after-effects can be considered "catastrophic".

"Ice flows out into the floating ice shelf and melts or breaks off as icebergs".

Mr Seroussi added: "The process becomes self-perpetuating".

Its top boffins warned that the growing hole is already as tall as London's Shard skyscraper, and covers an area the size of 10,000 football pitches.

The simulations spanned several centuries, as is common for studies on sea level rise.

As it grows, Thwaites will disintegrate faster and faster, potentially triggering a global catastrophe. That melting gives rise to cavities: An early Manhattan-sized gap was discovered under the Thwaites Glacier in February.

"As more heat and water get under the glacier, it melts faster". "Once the ice is past the grounding line and just over the water, it's contributing to sea level because buoyancy is holding it up more than it was", Robel said.

But Thwaites prevents its neighbour glaciers from flowing into the ocean, too. But their contribution to sea level rise pales in comparison to what we may see now that the Antarctic ice sheet faces a tipping point - a point of no return.

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