Research

Unstable Antarctic Glaciers Could Cause Rapid Sea Level Rise

Unstable Antarctic Glaciers Could Cause Rapid Sea Level Rise

The Sorsdal Glacier showing a large crack where the Antarctic feature calved earlier this year.

According to the National Science Foundation, five Antarctic glaciers have doubled their rate of ice loss in the last six years.

Thwaites and the nearby Pine Island Glacier are two of the biggest and fastest-retreating glaciers in Antarctica. This is perhaps the most worrying process from a sea-level perspective: these bits of ice eventually melt in the wider ocean, but the process also speeds up the rate at which glaciers slide into the waters (as they're no longer buoyed up by the ocean), leading to more and more melting. "That would make for a sea level rise of about half a meter (1.64 feet)", NASA JPL scientist Helene Seroussi added. "It will keep going by itself, and that's the worry", lead author Alexander Robel said in a release. This instability is unlikely to be found only in the Thwaites Glacier.

The Thwaites Glacier, which is roughly the size of Florida or Britain, in West Antarctica, is at an unstoppable point now and once the "instability" begins, nothing could prevent the ice from melting, the Nasa-backed study said.

As the ice melts and crumbles into the oceans, the amount of present water pushes up on coastal areas, threatening floods around the globe. These floating sheets "act like a dam", as Ross Virginia, director of Dartmouth College's Institute of Arctic Studies, previously told Business Insider.

Now, researchers have been working on a new study which reports that over the past six years, the rate at which the five Antarctic glaciers have melted has doubled.

Depending on how fast global warming continues and the nature of the glacier's instability, extensive ice loss would start in 600 years according to modeling simulations in the research.

Robel and his research partners at Georgia Tech, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Washington built an instability model of Thwaites Glacier and ran hundreds of simulations.

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

On the other hand, 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.

"As more heat and water get under the glacier, it melts faster".

Because of human activity, greenhouse gases are sent into the atmosphere.

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

"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".

Without it, surrounding glaciers could all disintegrate, raising sea levels by 2.5 metres if all ice were lost. At some point, its destruction and the increase in sea level of 50 centimeters will become irreversible, which poses a global threat to humanity.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.