Quantcast

Antarctic Glacial Melt May Be Irreversible Causing Sea Rise, Research Says

Oceans
An aerial view of Thwaites glacier, which shows growth of gaps between the ice and bedrock. Nasa / Jeremy Harbeck

A glacier the size of Florida is melting much faster than expected and may soon trigger a 50cm, or 19.6 inches, rise in sea level, according to a new NASA-funded study published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


The study found that in the last six years, several closely observed Antarctic glaciers have doubled their rate of melting. Their rate of melting was five times faster than in the 1990s. The Thwaites Glacier, one of five recently studied unstable glaciers, which measures about 70,000 square miles is at risk of rapidly melting into the ocean, triggering an unstoppable rise in sea levels.

The mathematical models the researchers created make the most catastrophic scenarios of rapid melting and fast rises in sea water levels seems much more likely than the best-case scenarios of a slow sea level rise. Just how much ice the glaciers will shed in the next 50 to 800 years is impossible to predict since the climate is constantly changing and more data is needed. And yet, the researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the University of Washington factored the instability into 500 ice flow simulations for Thwaites with refined calculations, according to Phys.org.

While the scenarios showed a wide-range of possibilities, they consistently pointed to an irreversible instability in the glacier that would keep pushing the ice out to sea at an enormously accelerated rate over the coming centuries.

A complete loss of the West Antarctic ice sheet would be expected to increase global sea levels by about five meters (16ft), which would submerge coastal cities around the world. In some models, the entire ice sheet could be lost within 150 years, even if global temperatures stopped rising, which they show no sign of doing, according to the Guardian.

"If you trigger this instability, you don't need to continue to force the ice sheet by cranking up temperatures. It will keep going by itself, and that's the worry," said Alex Robel, an assistant professor at Georgia Tech and the study's lead author, as the Independent reported. "Climate variations will still be important after that tipping point because they will determine how fast the ice will move."

This study comes on the heels of another study published in the same journal that looked at satellite images of the continent and found a swath of ice four times larger than France has melted since 2014, as EcoWatch reported.

Antarctica is an overwhelming ice juggernaut. It has nearly eight times as much land-based ice than the Greenland ice sheet and 50 times more than all the mountain glaciers in the world combined. The Thwaites glacier alone contains enough ice to increase global sea levels by about 50cm, or more than 19.6 inches, which is alarming since sea level rise due to global warming is already linked to increased coastal flooding and storm surges, according to the Guardian.

Current sea levels are already 8-inches above pre-industrial levels and the annual rate of sea level rise has doubled since 1990.

"You want to engineer critical infrastructure to be resistant against the upper bound of potential sea level scenarios a hundred years from now," said Robel, as the Independent reported. "It can mean building your water treatment plants and nuclear reactors for the absolute worst-case scenario, which could be two or three feet of sea level rise from Thwaites Glacier alone, so it's a huge difference."


Related Articles Around the Web
From Your Site Articles

    EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

    Pick one of these nine activism styles, and you can start making change. YES! Illustrations by Delphine Lee

    By Cathy Brown

    Most of us have heard about UN researchers warning that we need to make dramatic changes in the next 12 years to limit our risk of extreme heat, drought, floods and poverty caused by climate change. Report after report about a bleak climate future can leave people in despair.

    Read More Show Less
    Jamie Grill Photography / Getty Images

    Losing weight, improving heart health and decreasing your chances for metabolic diseases like diabetes may be as simple as cutting back on a handful of Oreos or saying no to a side of fries, according to a new study published in the journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.

    Read More Show Less
    Sponsored
    Golde Wallingford submitted this photo of "Pure Joy" to EcoWatch's first photo contest. Golde Wallingford

    EcoWatch is pleased to announce our third photo contest!

    Read More Show Less
    A boy gives an impromptu speech about him not wanting to die in the next 10 years during the protest on July 15. The Scottish wing of the Extinction Rebellion environmental group of Scotland locked down Glasgow's Trongate for 12 hours in protest of climate change. Stewart Kirby / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

    It's important to remember that one person can make a difference. From teenagers to world-renowned scientists, individuals are inspiring positive shifts around the world. Maybe you won't become a hard-core activist, but this list of people below can inspire simple ways to kickstart better habits. Here are seven people advocating for a better planet.

    Read More Show Less
    A group of wind turbines in a field in Banffshire, Northeast Scotland. Universal Images Group / Getty Images

    Scotland produced enough power from wind turbines in the first half of 2019, that it could power Scotland twice over. Put another way, it's enough energy to power all of Scotland and most of Northern England, according to the BBC — an impressive step for the United Kingdom, which pledged to be carbon neutral in 30 years.

    Read More Show Less
    Sponsored
    Beekeeper Jeff Anderson works with members of his family in this photo from 2014. He once employed all of his adult children but can no longer afford to do so. CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

    By Jessica A. Knoblauch

    It's been a particularly terrible summer for bees. Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it is allowing the bee-killing pesticide sulfoxaflor back on the market. And just a few weeks prior, the USDA announced it is suspending data collection for its annual honeybee survey, which tracks honeybee populations across the U.S., providing critical information to farmers and scientists.

    Read More Show Less

    tommaso79 / iStock / Getty Images Plus

    By Rachel Licker

    As a new mom, I've had to think about heat safety in many new ways since pregnant women and young children are among the most vulnerable to extreme heat.

    Read More Show Less
    Pexels

    By Kris Gunnars, BSc

    It's easy to get confused about which foods are healthy and which aren't.

    Read More Show Less