Antarctic glacier melt is unstoppable

Ice collapse could raise global sea level by more than 4 meters in coming centuries

DONE FOR  Thwaites Glacier, on the Amundsen Coast of West Antarctica, is part of a rapidly and irreversibly melting region of the continent's ice sheet.


A set of West Antarctic glaciers has now entered terminal melt.

Two studies reveal that the glaciers are on an irreversible path to liquefying and stand to raise global sea levels by around 4 meters in coming centuries.

Using two decades of satellite observations of six glaciers in West Antarctica, researchers led by Eric Rignot of the University of California, Irvine found unstoppable melting that will probably accelerate in coming centuries. The study appears May 12 in Geophysical Research Letters. In a press conference May 12, researchers noted that the disintegration of the six glaciers could raise sea level by 1.2 meters.

Further alarm bells were sounded in a May 16 Science paper by researchers led by Ian Joughin of the University of Washington in Seattle, who used simulations to show that the Thwaites and Haynes Glaciers in the same region may collapse rapidly in the next 200 to 900 years. Once gone, the glaciers could raise sea levels by 0.6 meters and spur the melt of the rest of the continent’s ice sheet, which could add another 3 to 4 meters to the oceans.

Both studies link climate change and warming ocean waters to the glaciers’ irreversible demise.

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