Scientists are warning of dramatic changes in one of Antarctica’s largest glaciers, potentially over the next five to 10 years.
They say that a floating section in front of Thwaites Glacier that has remained relatively stable until now “could break like a car windshield”.
researchers of we i do United Kingdom It is currently involved in an intensive study program in Thwaites because of its melting rate. It is already throwing 50 billion tons of ice into the ocean every year.
Infographic showing the size of Thwaites Glacier — Photo: BBC
This is having limited impact on global sea level today, but there is so much ice trapped in the glacier’s watershed that if everything melted, sea level could rise by 65 centimeters.
This “doomsday” scenario is unlikely to happen for several centuries, but the study team says that Thwaites are now actually responding to a warming world in much faster ways.
“There will be a dramatic change on the glacier front, probably in less than a decade. Both published and unpublished studies point in that direction,” glaciologist Ted Scambos, principal US coordinator for international collaboration, told BBC News for Thwaites Glacier. Explains (ITGC).
“This would accelerate (the Thwaites thaw) and effectively expand the dangerous part of the glacier,” he says.
Thwaites is a colossus. It is about the size of Britain or Florida, and its melting rate has doubled in the past 30 years.
West Antarctica’s ice sheet has become even thinner — Photo: BBC
ITGC showed how this dynamic is happening. This is the result of warm ocean water passing under and melting – the floating front of Thwaites, or the ice shelf as it is known.
The warm water is thinning and weakening this ice, causing it to melt faster and push back the area where the body of the main glacier erupted.
Currently, the edge of the eastern ice shelf is held by an offshore subsea ridge, meaning that its flow velocity is one-third that observed in the western region of the ice shelf, which has no such restriction.
But the ITGC team says the eastern shelf is likely to separate from the crest in the next few years, which will destabilize it. And even if it didn’t, the continued presence of fractures in the ice shelf would almost certainly break up the area anyway.
Erin Petit of Oregon State explains, “I see it similar to a car window, where you have some cracks that are slowly expanding and all of a sudden you go through a bump and the whole thing starts breaking in all directions. ” in the University we,
The affected area is very small when considered in terms of glaciers as a whole, but it represents a change in a new regime, and more importantly, what it means for further ice loss.
Currently, the eastern shelf, which is about 40 km wide, moves about 600 m per year. The next change in position will likely cause the ice to jump at a speed of about 2 km per year – similar to the current speed recorded in the 80 km wide western region.
jointly funded by the National Science Foundation of we and by the Council for Research in the Natural Environment Research United KingdomThe ITGC project, which will run for five years, scrutinizes Thwaites till the last detail.
Every summer in Antarctica, teams of scientists analyze glacier behavior in every possible way. From satellites, over ice and from ships in front of Thwaites.
Teams have already started moving to start work in the new season which is about to begin – with some teams still abandoned by Covid before fieldwork can begin.
One of the projects for the new year will include the small yellow submarine known as the “Boati McBoatface”.
Beneath the floating ice of Thwaites, it will collect data on water temperature, current direction and turbulence – all factors affecting melting.
The autonomous vehicle will complete missions lasting one to four days, navigating its way through the cavity beneath the platform.
This is a high-risk mission, as the sea level is extremely uneven.
“It’s scary. We can’t have bowtie backs,” says Alex Phillips of the National Center for Oceanography. United Kingdom,
“We’ve put a lot of effort into developing anti-collision systems over the past year to make sure he doesn’t hit the sea floor. We also have contingency plans so that if he gets into trouble, he can take his own steps. could turn back and retreat safely.”
The latest studies on Thwaites Glacier are being presented this week at the American Geophysical Union Autumn Meeting in New Orleans.