Scientists, speaking at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in New Orleans this month, reported that a critical section of the keystone Antarctic glacier, Thwaites Glacier, will likely collapse in the next five to ten years. The research, led by Erin Pettit of Oregon State University, predicts that the Thwaites ice shelf will break apart within the next decade because of startling increases in surface fractures and rifts.
Thwaites Glacier is one the largest Antarctic glaciers, comparable to the size of Great Britain or Florida. Meltwater from Thwaites alone is responsible for 4% of global sea level rise, leading it to receive a great deal of scientific attention in recent years.
The nickname ‘Antarctica’s doomsday glacier’ is given to Thwaites because if the ice shelf collapses, the glacier and the enormous volumes of ice upstream that funnel into the glacier will no longer be restrained from accelerating into the ocean. “It is the potential long-term effect on the rest of the grounded ice sheet that we need to consider,” explains Anne Le Brocq, a senior lecturer in physical geography at the University of Exeter. If the entire glacier were to melt then global sea levels would rise by 65 centimeters, or about two feet. If Thwaites Glacier, and other critical neighboring glaciers such as Pine Island Glacier, cannot hold back the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which holds the equivalent of 3.3 meters (10.8 feet) in sea level, then it could affect coastlines across the world.
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