Antarctic ice instability could yield rapid melting, dramatic sea level rise

10 Juillet, 2019, 14:09 | Auteur: Therese Cote

The barrier prevents continental ice from flowing into the ocean, where it would melt and cause global sea levels to rise.

"After reaching the tipping point, Thwaites Glacier could lose all of its ice in 150 years", Hélène Seroussi, an author of the study and a NASA scientist, stated.

The resulting sea-level rise would be two-and-a-half times bigger than the 20cm (7.8 inches) increase since pre-global warming levels of the late 19th century, the NASA-funded study found. The study went with present-day ice melt rates because the researchers were interested in the instability factor in itself.

But he added: "Climate variations will still be important after that tipping point because they will determine how fast the ice will move". "That would make for a sea level rise of about half a meter (1.64 feet)", adds NASA JPL scientist Helene Seroussi, a co-author of the paper. In comparison, sea level rose by 20 centimeter, or almost 8 inches, from the pre-global warming levels and is now blamed for increased flooding in coastal areas.

Now, authors of a brand new research report that over the past six years, the speed at which five Antarctic glaciers slough off the ice has doubled.

It found that we're on track to trigger an irreversible instability in the glacier's ice flows.

Professor Robel said: "You want to engineer critical infrastructure to be resistant against the upper bound of potential sea level scenarios a hundred years from now". The team behind the study, with members from the Georgia Institute of Technology, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the University of Washington, says that this hidden instability will likely accelerate water flow into the ocean and raise sea levels much faster than previously estimated.

The grounding line is the line between where the ice sheet rests on the seafloor and where it extends over the water.

The Thwaites Glacier is seen above. The point where the overhanging glacier, sea and bedrock meet is called the "grounding line".

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The simulations show that even if we do stop climate warming in the future, instability in Thwaites will keep feeding water into the global ocean at extremely fast rates compared to the baseline value.

Antarctic sea ice had been gradually increasing during 40 years of measurement and reached a record maximum in 2014, before falling markedly.

"The system didn't damp out the fluctuations, it actually amplified them". It increased the chances of rapid ice loss.

In Antarctica, a glacier the size of Florida is losing ice sooner than ever before.

As the ice melts and crumbles into the oceans, the amount of present water pushes up on coastal areas, threatening floods around the globe.

What sounds even more terrible is that even if climate change declined and global warming stopped at some point, the glacier would remain unstable and would push ice into the sea at an accelerated rate in the coming centuries.

She explained as the underlying bedrock becomes deeper, undercutting seawater exerts more lift on the glacier - accelerating its flow into the sea. Antarctica holds the most land-supported ice, even if much of that land is seabed holding up just part of the ice's mass, while water holds up part of it. While they cannot predict the exact date it will begin to flood the oceans with fresh water, it could happen within the next 150 years.

Maps showing sea level rise risk in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs.

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