Antarctica is reaching a point of no return with the continuing acceleration of glacial melting. Now, a study suggests that the effects will be irreversible even if global warming eases.
Findings from NASA-funded research show that Thwaites glacier’s unstable state would lead to an unstoppable 50cm rise in sea levels. Other glaciers around the Antarctic are likely to be facing similar instability.
Researchers believe that the Thwaites glacier of West Antarctica poses the greatest threat for rapid sea level rise in the future. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal found that the glacier was prone to ice melt faster than previously expected.
The study’s head researcher and assistant professor at the US Georgia Institute of Technology Alex Robel said that triggering the instability of the glacier will leed to the loss of the ice sheet in a span of 150 years. Even with efforts to stop global warming Robel says “It will keep going by itself and that’s the worry.”
Depending on how fast global warming continues and the nature of the glacier’s instability, extensive ice loss would start in 600 years according to modeling simulations in the research.
“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,” says Hélène Seroussi, a jet propulsion laboratory scientist at NASA.
While the melting of Thwaites glacier alone can lead to a global increase of sea levels by about 50cm, there is no telling as of yet how high sea levels will rise if other glaciers in the Antarctic will melt collectively.