July 1, 2022

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The Great Ice Shelf in Antarctica threatens to break up within five years

The Great Ice Shelf in Antarctica threatens to break up within five years

The Thwaites Glacier is located in West Antarctica and is roughly the size of Great Britain. Due to climate change, meltwater from this glacier currently accounts for 4 percent of sea level rise.

A crack in the windshield

An increase in height is not yet on the agenda, because the ice shelf in front of the glacier is slowing down the melting. but on New satellite images It shows that this ice shelf is increasing cracks.

The cracks can be compared to a crack in your car’s windshield, the researchers who published the photos wrote in their report. “Such a crack weakens the window glass and a small shock can shatter the window into hundreds of fragments.”

American scientists wrote that the ice shelf will break within five to ten years. If this happened, the glacier could melt three times faster. The glacier is also known as the “Doomsday Glacier”, because the sea level would rise more than half a meter if it completely melted.

Sea level will rise

Steve Lermitt explains that the eastern ice shelf itself will not directly cause sea level rise. He is a glaciologist at TU Delft who studies polar caps using satellite imagery. “An ice shelf is a piece of floating ice and so it’s already in the water.” Lhermitte compares it to ice cubes in a glass of cola: When the ice cubes melt, there is suddenly no more liquid in the glass.

The problem is the iceberg held in place by the ice shelf. “There is a glacier on land. If the ice from the glacier melted and entered the water, the global sea level would rise.” Just like putting an ice cube in a glass of Coke.

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horizontal gravity

The melting of the entire Thwaites glacier will have a significant impact on sea levels, particularly in the Netherlands. “This is due to horizontal gravity,” explains glaciologist Lermitt.

Ocean waters are attracted to large ice masses, such as those in Antarctica. As a result, the sea level around the ice caps is higher. “If a big chunk of ice disappears there, Antarctica loses some of that attraction, so that the water there just flows away.” Then the sea level drops at the ice caps, while the sea level rises thousands of kilometers away. “And because the Netherlands is on the other side of the world, relatively more water is coming to us.”

The bad news is that we can’t stop the ice shelf from breaking right now. Even if the entire world stopped emitting greenhouse gases today, the temperature would continue to rise and the ice would melt. “It’s a process that can’t be stopped overnight,” Lermitt explains.

irreversible process

An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report earlier this year already showed that some changes in climate are irreversible. For example, the sea level will continue to rise for the next millennia, and the melting of glaciers on mountains and in the Arctic could continue for centuries as well.

The good news is that it will take decades for the Thwaites glacier to completely melt. “It cannot be stopped, but it happens very slowly. This gives us the opportunity to adapt and prepare as best we can. The sea level continues to rise, but depending on the choices we make now, the sea level will rise more or less.”

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