Scientists warned Wednesday that an Antarctic ice shelf could fracture and fall within the next decade. This would allow a Florida-sized glacier to slide into ocean water and raise sea levels by feet.
According to Erin Pettit (or Oregon State University professor who studies glacier dynamics and ice sheet dynamics), a dramatic chain reaction could take place in the ice by 2031.
The eastern ice shelf is a mountain that sits on top of an underwater mountain, and is causing the glacier to stop flowing into the sea.
Pettit’s new research suggests that the last collapse of the ice shelf could occur in as little as five years. This would mark the end of Thwaites Glacier.
Research has shown that the ice at the top is crisscrossed by cracks, which are expanding towards the center of the shelf at a rate of 2 km (1.24 miles) per year.
Scientists point to a zigzag route they believe is the most likely location for the ice shelf’s cracking and disintegration.
Pettit’s research has been submitted for publication in The Cryosphere (a scientific journal).
Thwaites is “the largest glacier in the globe” and has “doubled it outflow speed in the past 30 years,” according to Ted Scambos (a senior researcher scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences) and a contributor.
Scambos stated in a press release that “if Thwaites collapsed, it would drag most west Antarctica’s glaciers with it.” It is crucial to have a better understanding of the future behavior of the glacier over the next 100-years.
According to the British Antarctic Survey, Thwaites contributes 4 per cent of global sea level rise each year. Scientists warned that the amount could increase to 25% if the shelf falls.
Scambos stated that sea levels would rise by 2 feet if all the water from the Thwaites Glacier was used. However, if nearby glaciers collapse, global sea levels could rise up to 10 feet.
Recent scientific studies on Thwaites have shown that the glacier is melting faster than scientists expected.
According to NBC News, scientists found a cavity that was 6 miles long and 1,000 feet deep under the glacier in 2019. This means it has lost 14 billion tons of ice.
Researchers later that year compared aerial images of Antarctica taken in 1970s with current radar data. They found Thwaites was melting faster than they thought.