The United Kingdom and the United States will undertake one of the largest projects in Antarctica to examine the stability of the huge Thwaites glacier, which is currently melting and … The United Kingdom and the United States will embark on one of the largest projects in Antarctica to examine the stability of the huge Thwaites glacier, which is currently melting and could cause global sea levels to rise by about four percent… It will be a five-year effort during which British and American scientists will seek to determine if Thwaites could collapse since if it is the case it is estimated that it would raise the sea level by 80 centimetres or more.
In a timescale of centuries, the simulations suggest that the total melting of the glacier is inevitable if the conditions continue as they have until now, so the researchers will use their observations to try to make a model more attached to reality. Professor David Vaughan, director of science at the British Antarctic Survey, told the British news network BBC that one of the main objectives of the project is to corroborate whether the glacier has “really entered into an irreversible withdrawal”. He explained that although the melt rates we see today continue in the future, the total thawing “is not guaranteed, Thwaites seems to be on the verge of an irreversible setback, but to be sure we need 10 more years of data.” To this end, the Research Council of the Natural Environment of the United Kingdom and the National Science Foundation of the United States will deploy, through the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (ITGC), around 100 scientists in a series of expeditions on the glacier.
For this project grants were granted for more than 27 million dollars, however, the sum could reach 55 million dollars once the transport and replenishment costs to that remote region are taken into account. Thwaites is a marine termination glacier where snow falls on land and is compacted into ice that then flows into the sea. When it is in balance, the amount of snow at the head of the glacier coincides with the ice that is lost in the ocean through the birth of icebergs. However, Thwaites is out of balance as the melt has accelerated and currently flows to more than four kilometres per year and also thins at an annual speed of almost 40 centimetres. “When we look at the historical record of satellites, we can see that this thinning began after the year 2000, extending inland at a speed of 10-12 kilometres at its maximum speed,” explained Dr. Anna Hogg of the University of Leeds.
He noted that the increase in ice velocity on the glacier has coincided with a period of rapid thinning and withdrawal from the shelf line, suggesting that the observed changes may have been caused by warm ocean water reaching Thwaites. and accelerates the melting. If the warm waters of the ocean floor pass under this platform, the line of the ocean can erode and push the glacier back even if the air temperatures are below zero. The key to this process in the case of Thwaites is that a large portion of the ice stream is below sea level, with the bedrock tilted towards the continent. This can produce what scientists call “instability of sea ice plates”, which is an intrinsically unstable architecture that, once knocked down, can enter an irreversible decline.