Glacier size of Victoria at 'tipping point', set to melt

The Thwaites Glacier is seen above

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.

If Thwaites glacier does melt, sea levels will rise by a further 50 cm within the next 150 years, causing catastrophic coastal flooding and an irreversible rise in global temperatures. When sea bottom behind the grounding line, under the ice, slopes downward going inland, it exacerbates the process, which can become unstable, perpetually pushing ice out to sea.

The resulting sea-level rise would be two-and-a-half times bigger than the 20cm (7.8 inches) increase since pre-global warming levels of the late 19th century, the NASA-funded study found.

If the Thwaites Glacier was to become truly unstable, it would be devastating. "It will keep going by itself, and that's the worry", lead author Alexander Robel said in a release.

Arctic sea ice and mountain glaciers are melting, and it is hard to look at images and videos of what is happening.

NASA JPL scientist Helene Seroussi, who worked on the study along with Robel, said that the glacier could lose all of its ice over the next 150 years. However, they have been increasing steadily since - and in the past 20 years, the annual rate of sea levels rising has doubled. "That will make for a sea-level rise of about half a meter (1.64 ft)".

Modelling simulations suggested extensive ice loss would start in 600 years but the researchers said it could occur sooner depending on the pace of global heating and nature of the instability.

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"Once ice is past the grounding line and just over water, it's contributing to sea level because buoyancy is holding it up more than it was", says Alex Robel, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech's School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and the study's lead author.

Together with Greenland's ice sheet, Antarctica's ice sheet contains more than 99 percent of the world's fresh water.

The researchers explained huge ice shelves rested on the continent's bedrock beneath the water line.

"Ice flows out into the floating ice shelf and melts or breaks off as icebergs".

When this happens, it would be impossible to stop it from flowing into the ocean, which could trigger a significant rise in sea levels. The findings are particularly worrying as the success of current efforts to proof cities and installations against sea level rise are wholly dependent on having accurate predictions. That melting gives rise to cavities: An early Manhattan-sized gap was discovered under the Thwaites Glacier in February.

"As more heat and water get under the glacier, it melts faster".

Until sometime in the 1800s, global sea levels remained more or less static, with only minuscule fluctuations. "There is nearly eight times as much ice in the Antarctic ice sheet as there is in the Greenland ice sheet and 50 times as much as in all the mountain glaciers in the world", Robel said. So some other scientists think that if the entire Thwaites glacier were to collapse, it could destabilize surrounding glaciers on the Antarctic ice sheet as well.

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