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Thwaites Glacier to be Gone in between 200 & 600 Years

Thwaites Glacier to be Gone in between 200 & 600 Years

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 08 July 2019



Thwaites Glacier's Edge
Thwaites Glacier's Edge, credit Georgia Institute of Technology, NASA/James Yungel.
"Thwaites Glacier's outer edge. As the glacier flows into the ocean, it becomes sea ice and drives up sea level. Thwaites Glacier ice is flowing particularly fast, and some researchers believe it may have already tipped into instability or be near that point, though this has not yet been established." Credit, Georgia Institute of Technology, NASA/James Yungel


Everything Changing Rapidly

Instability in Antarctic Ice Projected to make Sea Level Rise Rapidly,
Georgia Institute of Technology, July 8, 2019.


Antarctic Surprise
"...instability hidden within Antarctic ice is likely to accelerate its flow into the ocean and push sea level up at a more rapid pace than previously expected."

Rapid Antarctic Glacial Melt
"In the last six years, five closely observed Antarctic glaciers have doubled their rate of ice loss... At least one, Thwaites Glacier, modeled for the new study, may be in danger of succumbing to this instability, a volatile process that pushes ice into the ocean fast."

Possible Outcomes
"How much ice the glacier will shed in coming 50 to 800 years can't exactly be projected due to unpredictable fluctuations in climate and the need for more data. But researchers...have factored the instability into 500 ice flow simulations for Thwaites with refined calculations."

Thwaites Breakdown
Simulations that, "...pointed to the eventual triggering of the instability"

"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."

Why Antarctica is Important
"There's almost eight times as much ice in the Antarctic ice sheet as there is in the Greenland ice sheet and 50 times as much as in all the mountain glaciers in the world."

Thwaites Future
"After reaching the tipping point, Thwaites Glacier could lose all of its ice in a period of 150 years. That would make for a sea level rise of about half a meter (1.64 feet)..."

"For comparison, current sea level is 20 cm (nearly 8 inches) above pre-global warming levels and is blamed for increased coastal flooding."

"The study's time scale was centuries, as is common for sea level studies. In the simulations, Thwaites Glacier colossal ice loss kicked in after 600 years, but it could come sooner."

"It could happen in the next 200 to 600 years. It depends on the bedrock topography under the ice, and we don't know it in great detail yet."

Big Picture
"For about 2,000 years until the late 1800s, sea level held steady, then it began climbing, according to the Smithsonian Institution. The annual rate of sea level rise has roughly doubled since 1990."



Antarctic Ice Research

May 2019
Much Faster Ross Ice Shelf Melting than Assumed or Expected

May 2019
Rapid Degradation of West Antarctic Ice Underway

April 2019
Melting Ice, Glaciers, & Ice Caps: Estimating Dates for Reaping the Whirlwind(s)

March 2019
The End of Cold: McMurdo Dry Valleys Unique Environment Threatened

Jan 2019
Once Thought Invincible, East Antarctic Ice Now seen as Vulnerable

Jan 2019
Moderate warming could melt East Antarctic Ice Sheet

Dec 2018
Totten and Four East Antarctic Glacial Neighbors are Moving

Nov 2018
East Antarctic Breakdown: The Totten Glacier is Melting

Nov 2018
2018 Status of All Antarctic Ice: Ice Loss Triples




Summer & Fall 2019 Fish, Oceans, Ice, & Water News

News of Man & Nature, July 2019








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