According to a press release accompanying the study, the researchers concluded that the glacier has “lost contact with the edge of the seafloor” and is now retreating at a speed of 1.3 miles per year – twice what they expected between 2011 and 2019.
Unlike some other glaciers associated with dry land, Thwaites is anchored to the sea floor, making it more vulnerable to rising temperatures as a result of human-induced climate change. Thwaites is already responsible for about 4 percent of annual sea level rise.
“You can’t take Thwaites and leave the rest of Antarctica intact,” Alistair Graham, a marine geologist at the University of South Florida and co-author of the study, said in a phone interview.
He described the consequences of losing the two roles as “existential”.
according to United nationsmore than 40 percent of the world’s population lives within 60 miles of the coast – areas that will be severely affected by high tides.
“Thwaites is really sticking with its nails today, and we should expect to see big changes on small time scales in the future – even from year to year – once the glacier retreats beyond a shallow ledge at its bottom,” said Robert Larter of the British Antarctic Survey. , is a co-author of the study.
Satellite imagery taken late last year revealed that the ice shelf used to stabilize the eastern portion of the Thwaites Glacier showed signs of rupture — what scientists say could create a “spider web” effect across the entire wedge, if hit by strong winds, according to for Washington Post.
The researchers say, however, that cliff collapse will not immediately contribute to rising sea levels, although it may accelerate the erosion of the Thwaites glacier, leading to the collapse of landlocked ice from the hull to the sea.
Graham said his team cannot predict with confidence whether or when the icy structure will completely disintegrate, but that reducing the planet’s greenhouse emissions in the next 75 years will be critical to its survival.
“Right now, we can do something about it — especially if we can prevent the ocean from warming,” he said.
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